By Brandi Makuski
Leaders in Park Ridge will need to make a tough decision regarding the future of the village’s fire department.
Disbanding the village’s fire dept. is one of four options before the village — options the village need to address soon because the current fire truck bay barely holds the department’s vehicles.
“There’s not much room to move around in there,” said Fire Chief Brian Lepper. “You’re looking at a matter of inches of space between you and the next vehicle, or between you and the wall. We have to pull one of the vehicles out to get any work done in there.”
The PRFD is housed in the village hall, which is essentially a residential home with an enlarged garage. The problem, according to Lepper, involves replacing the department’s aging vehicle fleet, because newer vehicles are larger than what the village currently owns.
“Our current vehicles barely fit, and there’s no way a new engine could fit in there,” Lepper added. “It’s really tight now.”
Other options include purchasing a new fire truck, refurbishing an existing fire truck or building a new structure for fire vehicles.
“Any way we look at it, we’re going to have to spend money, and a lot of it,” said Village President Kathy Budelier. “We want input from village residents regarding what they want us to do.”
A public informational meeting in March brought in about 20 village residents, all of whom agreed the least popular option was contracting fire services out to Stevens Point, which in 2015 would have cost the village about $74,000 a year — far above its $37,000 annual fire dept. budget.
“The up side of that is we’ll have on-call fire service 24 hours a day, and the latest equipment,” Budelier said. “The down side, of course, is that we’ll no longer have our own fire department.”
The second option includes replacing PRFD Engine 2, but Budelier said that doesn’t address the space problem, which Lepper said is an issue the village can no longer ignore.
A third option, costing an estimated $240,000, involves retrofitting an existing fire engine into a smaller vehicle, allowing it to better fit into the current station. While that option meets the current needs of the fire dept., all future vehicles would need to be custom-built, and working conditions inside the vehicle bay would remain tight.
The fourth option, which most residents seemed to agree with, addresses both the need for a new building and trucks. Constructing a standalone building, designed for a larger truck, is estimated to cost $170,000. Conversion of one existing truck, and the purchase of a newer engine, would cost another $100,000, but Budelier added those estimates were probably low.
Whatever the village board decides, the entire cost will be bore by the village’s 500 residents. Despite having a thriving business district, the village is totally landlocked with no options for expanding its tax base.
The board had originally intended to further discuss the options at its Mar. 21 meeting, but decided to postpone further discussion until April.
The board will discuss, and possibly vote on, how to move forward at a special 6 PM meeting on April 6 at the Park Ridge Village Hall, 24 Crestwood Drive.