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Lakewood fire gets overhaul

LAKEWOOD – Before Tony Huemann could answer a fire call in Lakewood, he had to answer questions from residents about the new fire department.

Huemann, a Mount Prospect Fire Department shift commander with more than 20 years of experience fighting fires, was introduced as the Lakewood fire chief at the same Village Board meeting Tuesday that officials approved an agreement to create the village’s privately staffed fire department.

“I understand this is a change,” he said. “We’re going to do everything we can in our power to provide the best fire service.”

Lakewood had received fire services from the Crystal Lake Fire Rescue Department, but increasing costs prompted Lakewood officials to explore other options. Records show that the village will pay almost $464,600 for fire protection at the end of this year. Crystal Lake wanted Lakewood residents to pay the same rate as city residents, which would have meant almost $768,600 next year.

During the five-year agreement with American Emergency Services Corp., Lakewood will pay annual costs of about $728,000. That figure will be offset by $75,000 to $100,000 in fees that went to the Crystal Lake Fire Rescue Department under the village’s previous contract.

Elisabeth Landt of Lakewood said cost was not the issue.

“I pay for good car insurance because I might get hit by a semi,” she said. “I pay for good fire service because I expect the same thing.”

She said the company’s plan always was to have three full-time firefighters/paramedics at the department might not be enough staff to handle calls.

“How are you going to do this with three people?” Landt said. “That’s my biggest concern.”

Gary Jensen, American Emergency Services Corp. president, said the department would contact paid-on-call firefighters/paramedics to staff the station when the full-time employees were away on calls.

“When we have a call, we will have an immediate callback,” Jensen said. “Yes, the department may be empty for a few minutes. Every department in the area has that problem.”

Huemann said the department hoped to be accepted by the local division of the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System, or MABAS, which provides aid to departments. Lakewood also would have to give assistance when other agencies needed it to be part of the division.

During calls, the Lakewood Fire Department will have some equipment in its station to handle other calls, Huemann said.

American Emergency Services Corp. will provide two fire engines, two ambulances with advanced life-support equipment, one tanker to provide water in areas without fire hydrants, one brush truck, one boat and trailer and one command vehicle, according to the agreement.

Not everyone was convinced the Village Board made the right decision.

Bob Veugeler of Lakewood said he would have supported a village fire department instead of a private service.

John Volenec of Crystal Lake said he didn’t think Lakewood residents were getting a good deal.

“The decision this board is making is not in the best interest of taxpayers,” said Volenec, a Crystal Lake Fire Rescue Department firefighter/paramedic who has family living in Lakewood. “They’re going to pay more for less.”

But Walt Kalemba, a former Lakewood trustee, said he thought the village had been paying Crystal Lake for services it didn’t use.

“They have equipment designed for industrial, for retail stores, for apartment buildings,” he said.

Kalemba said he was confident in the new department.

“They’re very well equipped, very well trained,” he said. “I think they’ll do a great job.”

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