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Fire district looks at moving to full-time staffing

McHENRY – Among the largest fire departments operated with part-time firefighters in the area, the McHenry Township Fire Protection District is looking at how it staffs its four stations.

The Board of Trustees reviewed its staffing options – from keeping the status quo to moving toward a career-style fire department with full-time firefighters – at a two-hour meeting Saturday morning, Fire Chief Tony Huemann said.

The board is reviewing all the options, board president Allen Miller said via Huemann. He declined to talk to the Northwest Herald on the topic.

Huemann doesn't know when the issue will be revisited, but he added that the district was still in the informational stage, looking at and assessing a wide variety of options.

Switching to a contract department – one where the district hires an outside firm to handle the staffing – was not and option presented at Saturday's meeting, an idea that some firefighters have expressed opposition to.

There was no reason the idea wasn't presented, Huemann said, adding that the board "probably could have gone eight hours talking about all the different options."

The part-time staff has worked well for the district so far, Huemann said.

"The biggest thing that we're looking for is the consistency factor," he said. "We have 160 people, and you never know who you're going to be working with. You may have a different supervisor every time you go in. You may have a different driver on the ambulance. You may have a different paramedic partner."

The district has made some changes to combat some of the inconsistency, hiring another full-time battalion chief, giving bonuses to officers who work a certain number of shifts during a month, establishing an e-dispatch system to let people know what shifts are available and offering a $500 flexible spending card for dental and eye care.

The Board of Trustees looks at staffing on an annual basis, especially in light of what projects are expected during the upcoming construction season, Huemann said.

Last year, the board decided to place three extra people at the Johnsburg station from May through November because of ongoing road work that limited the access going to Johnsburg and created a time delay for assists from other stations, he said.

The additional staffing may be repeated this construction season as work is expected to begin on the Route 120 and 31 intersection, at which the district's main station and administrative offices are located.

Further improvements to Johnsburg Road, including the construction of a roundabout at the St. Johns Avenue and Chapel Hill Road intersection, are also scheduled to start this spring.

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