Godfrey establishes ‘rescue fund’ to help struggling fire district

By Alex B. Heeb - aheeb@thetelegraph.com
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GODFREY — After hearing an appeal from the Godfrey Fire Protection District at a recent village board meeting, the village of Godfrey is setting up a fund aimed at assisting in the purchase a new truck for the district.

The fund, dubbed the Godfrey Fire Department Rescue Fund, is accepting donations from the public, 100 percent of which will go to the fire district. There will be no administrative costs, the village said in a press release. Two area banks will be administering the fund, and collecting donations — CMB Bank in Alton, and Carrollton Bank in Alton.

“Public safety is always the community’s number one concern and the village has its own budget and financial challenges to consider,” McCormick said in a statement. “By setting up the Godfrey Fire Department Rescue Fund, we can jump-start the financial assistance process immediately by giving the public an opportunity to donate and help the fire district get on the path to obtaining that much needed fire apparatus.”

The move comes after fire officials approached the village during its Feb. 20 meeting, asking them to consider diverting some of their tax money to the fire district, which has maxed out its taxing authority under the law, but is still not bringing in enough funds cover expenses. Fire officials asked the village to consider supplying enough funding to pay for one new fire truck, and to provide an annual stipend to hire an additional firefighter.

The fire district’s financial problems came to the forefront after one of its engines, a 2009 model-year vehicle, had to be sent to Michigan for extensive repairs after its frame began to fail. This left the district to rely on two 1998 pumper engines which are approaching the end of their useful lives, and are incurring high maintenance costs.

To preserve the machines, the fire district’s board put restrictions on the use of the engines, relegating them to use only for major emergencies. The move frustrated some firefighters, and the leadership of the firefighter’s union, who said it interfered with training, and sometimes caused the engines to be left unmanned in the firehouse. The board countered that cutting down on engine usage is paramount to keep them in running order.

The fire district, due to attrition, is also a man below the desired staffing levels, leaving one shift out of every three with only five firefighters, instead of usual six.

The Godfrey area relies on the fire district not just for fighting fires, but also for its EMS capabilities. Godfrey does not have an ambulance service, so fire district personnel are usually the first on scene for medical calls, which make up the majority of their emergency call load.

McCormick, who is an advocate of privatizing Godfrey’s sewer system, said that such a move could generate sufficient revenue to allow the village to give direct financial assistance to the fire district.

“We are quickly realizing,” McCormick said, “not only would the burden and costs associated with maintaining and operating a system of that size would be lifted off the shoulders of local government and its taxpayers, the sale of the sewer department and all of its facilities — treatment plants and lift stations, basins etc. — that would result in an annual property tax windfall that would benefit the Godfrey Fire Protection District.”

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By Alex B. Heeb

aheeb@thetelegraph.com

Reach Alex Heeb at 618-208-6451 or on Twitter @alexheebs

Reach Alex Heeb at 618-208-6451 or on Twitter @alexheebs