Naper fire chief talks about push for consolidating fire services

Naperville fire chief Mark Puknaitis (right) is joined by Naperville police chief Bob Marshall as they offer thoughts on the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., during a memorial service on Tuesday, September 11, 2012. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media
Naperville fire chief Mark Puknaitis (right) is joined by Naperville police chief Bob Marshall as they offer thoughts on the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., during a memorial service on Tuesday, September 11, 2012. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media

The DuPage County task force studying the possibility of consolidating firefighting services throughout the county has raised concerns about local fire stations closing to make service more efficient.

However, at this point, it’s not likely to happen in Naperville.

“No,” Naperville Fire Chief Mark Puknaitis said in a telephone interview regarding his feelings on the subject. “I would not recommend doing that.”

Puknaitis is part of the group that includes the DuPage Fire Chiefs Association, two members of the DuPage Mayors and Managers Conference and DuPage County Board member Gary Grasso (R-Burr Ridge) looking at how fire departments can consolidate some services to save money.

Last week, Grasso unveiled a working plan for a quadrant system, which divided the county into four sections.

Naperville would be in the southwest quadrant along with s large section of Lisle.

The group’s effort is part of a broader conversation DuPage officials have been having for the last several years about strategies for improving fire protection services and making them more cost efficient.

Puknaitis said that when it comes to costs, Naperville’s taxpayers are faring pretty well. He gave his own home as an example, saying that he only paid $100 per year on his property tax bill for fire protection.

Puknaitis said that Naperville property taxpayers benefitted from the fact that fire service is funded partially by revenue sources other that property taxes, such as the city’s sales tax. Many other fire protection districts are actually separate taxing bodies, limited in revenue to what they can levy in property taxes. He cited the nearby Lisle-Woodridge and Plainfield fire prevention districts, both separate taxing bodies.

That fact also makes it unlikely that there would be any formal consolidation of the districts countywide, at least in regards to Naperville’s current situation.

Although no one on the task force has mentioned the possibility of actual consolidation of taxing bodies, the quadrant proposal is in its early stages and consolidating services of some sort might require agreements between different districts.

Puknaitis does see merit in the quadrant system and some sort of shared service between districts, including purchasing equipment, a significant capital expense for fire prevention districts.

He said that new arrangements might be made between them to make response times quicker by using a neighboring fire protection district if it is actually closer to the location of a call.

“The closest station should always go,” Puknaitis said.

He said that shared response duties might not even require new agreements, saying that the task could be accomplished with alterations to the automatic aide agreements already in place between so many fire protection districts in the area.

Naperville accounts for about 20 percent of DuPage County’s calls for fire response and EMT calls, and it’s a function that has seen changes in recent history. Where once a typical local fire department’s responsibilities were predominantly calls for structure fires, modern fire departments are generally a diversified service.

Naperville averages 25 to 30 calls per year for significant structure fires but 11,000 to 12,000 for other calls, many for emergency medical ervice, activated fire alarms or smaller fire incidents.

Puknaitis wasn’t complaining, saying it was definitely a positive trend that modern education and technology have improved fire safety.

Puknaitis feels that the entire county will be able to make fire protection better and more cost-efficient without closing any stations in Naperville.

“I don’t see any major changes,” he said as far as stations go.

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1 Comment

  • Regional fire service concept discussed in DuPage County (more) « chicagoareafire.com

    […] Naperville Sun had a recent article about the recent discussions on regional consolidation of fire protection services and the […]

    2014-05-27 21:02:07 | Reply

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