Tolono fire trustee says his department can protect southwest Champaign

Tolono fire trustee says his department can protect southwest Champaign

CHAMPAIGN — A Tolono Fire Protection District trustee wants residents of unincorporated southwest Champaign to know that there's another option for fire service before they head to the polls.

Voters in the Rolling Acres and part of the Cherry Hills subdivision today will decide whether they want to contract with the city of Champaign for fire protection. Response times will be faster, Champaign officials promise, but it will also be more expensive.

For Rolling Acres residents, the cost of fire and medical service would more than triple — an extra $90 annually for the owner of a $100,000 home. It would nearly triple for Cherry Hills residents, too — an extra $85 annually for the owner of a $100,000 home there.

On the plus side, if residents approve the referendum, they'll be able to take advantage of the nearby Station 6, which is roughly 2 miles away and staffed with full-time fire and medical personnel.

Denny Davis, a Tolono fire district trustee, said he has a cheaper offer: Starting at $72 per year, regardless of the value of the home, residents can sign contracts with the Tolono fire district. The fee would rise $2 every year until the fifth year of the contract, when it would be capped at $80 per home for years five through 10, he said.

But residents who sign with the Tolono district would have to wait a little bit longer for the fire response: the Tolono department is 12 miles away.

It's also staffed with volunteers, but Davis said that alone should not make a difference. Volunteer and professional firefighters go through much of the same training and have the same skills, he said.

"The difference between professionals and volunteer: Professionals are paid," Davis said.

For years, residents in the two neighborhoods had been receiving fire service from the village of Savoy, until Champaign officials invoked an agreement that prohibited Savoy from providing fire service to those areas.

That gave residents a decision to make: Either sign a contract with Champaign or search elsewhere for fire service. With Savoy out of the picture, Tolono was the only other viable option.

Today's referendum will ask those residents if they want their fire protection districts to sign a long-term contract with the city of Champaign. If a majority votes no, then residents will need to sign contracts individually, and they'll have a choice between the more expensive, closer Champaign department or the cheaper, farther Tolono department.

Residents' fire service agreement with Savoy expires at the end of this month. If voters say no to the referendum, the city of Champaign has already agreed to provide service for one year at the old tax rate while residents look for individual contracts. If residents vote yes, the agreement with Champaign will be extended, and the tax rate will rise.

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Knowledge wrote on March 20, 2012 at 7:03 am

"The difference between a basketball player at Parkland College and a basketball player in the NBA; the NBA player is paid." Sounds a little silly and oversimplified, doesn't it? It's sad that this guy from Tolono can't just say, "We are very proud of our department, and given the natural difficulties in resources and personnel that a volunteer department faces, I think we do a great job for our town." Not sure if he truly believes what he is saying, or is just trying to drum up "business" for his volunteer department. Hope people realize that if something seems too good to be true, it usually is.....

Gadfly295 wrote on March 20, 2012 at 7:03 am

At best, TFPD is being disingenuous; at worst, they're flat-out dishonest. In 2009, average response time for a Champaign County volunteer fire department was 9-12 minutes IN THEIR OWN VILLAGES. Now add on the 10-15 minutes to travel to Rolling Acres from either station in Tolono. At best you're looking at nearly 20 minutes before the first fire unit arrives on the scene. That's a long time when your husband's heart isn't beating, or your kitchen is on fire, or you're waiting to be extricated from a crashed vehicle. Plus, although they're reticent to talk about it, there are varying degrees of quality among local volunteer departments in terms of member participation, level of training and experience, and equipment. TFPD may say that there wouldn't be a difference between service from their group and Savoy FD, for example, but that's just not the case. They might be able to meet basic requirements in their own neighborhood, but baldly stating that they can protect an area so far away is just irresponsible. Champaign Fire might cost more, but at least they're a known quantity.

kiwifuz wrote on March 20, 2012 at 7:03 pm

I might be wrong, but doesn't having a volunteer fire department increase home owners' insurance premiums too?