Management staff at City of DeKalb are proposing to build a fourth fire station on South Malta Road, next to the property housing Schnucks. Here are three reasons to question the plan.
- Our size. The site is meant to meet the needs of a larger population. When the property was bought in 2006, we were heading toward a target population of 50,000. Now, at some 44,000 — and with NIU’s enrollment continuing to take a dive — we’re nowhere near the size required to need or sustain full service EMS. It likely would be overkill at this point.
- Our money. DeKalb is dependent on federal grants to staff some of its first responder positions. The portion of these grants going to the fire department (FD) is between $1-$2 million annually; the grants will go away in 2025 and will need to be made up to maintain current staffing. The current FD operating budget for 2023 is $13.3 million for an average of $4.4 million per station. Even if expenses would only go up 25% more instead of 33% more, that’s still $3.3 million plus the grant funding makeup. A conservative ballpark estimate, then, would be an additional $4.5 million per year in operational expenses. This doesn’t include buying trucks and ambulances, and would exacerbate the need to play catchup on pensions, fire pensions already being our largest liability and only 36.47% funded at the end of 2022. Let’s not dig a bigger hole if we don’t have to.
- Our actual problem. The growth in service call volume largely reflects growth in inappropriate service calls. People in our poorest neighborhoods call for primary medical care as well as emergency care. We need doctors and nurses on our city’s northwest side, not more paramedics. Building another fire station would be the most expensive way to address the issue and wouldn’t solve the core problem of accessing regular medical care. Even if the primary care barriers prove intractable, and staffing another ambulance becomes necessary, it makes zero sense to put it on the southwest side when most of the calls are coming from the northwest.
Let’s expand on that last thought because it’s extra bizarre. The area of greatest demand is the northwest quadrant, but management doesn’t want to position additional resources there. Even though, if we absolutely have to build, expanding Station Three by an ambulance bay or two is the obvious choice under current financial constraints.