Brookfield’s Emergency Services and Disaster Agency (ESDA), an institution with its roots in the postwar Civil Defense Corps, has been disbanded and may end up being absorbed into a neighboring city’s unit.
May 1 officially marked the end of ESDA’s more than 50-year run in Brookfield, with the beginning of the 2006-07 fiscal year, which provided no budget for the organization, which has assisted the village’s police and fire departments with such duties as traffic and crowd control at local events.
In the coming weeks, Village Manager Riccardo Ginex said that the village’s police and fire chiefs will meet with the director of the City of Countryside’s ESDA unit to discuss a possible merger of the two organizations.
According to Ginex, the decision to dissolve the unit came about after discussing the future of ESDA with Police Chief Thomas Schoenfeld and Fire Chief Patrick Lenzi.
“It was getting to the point where, I believe, the amount of requests [for ESDA’s services locally] wasn’t really a lot,” Ginex said. “With our staffing levels, we felt we could handle it.”
The ESDA unit lost its leader with the death of 69-year-old Donald Houdek in December 2005, and membership had dropped to only seven members, according to Lenzi, to whom ESDA directly reports.
Neither Lenzi nor Schoenfeld felt that the loss of the ESDA unit would have any impact on public safety in Brookfield. Schoenfeld said that apart from its traditional roles providing traffic and crowd control at parades and at Brookfest, a special call for ESDA had gone out just one other time in 2005, when a pedestrian was struck and killed by a train at the Prairie Avenue crossing. The only person able to respond, Schoenfeld said, was Houdek.
“During the daytime hours, everybody else is working,” Schoenfeld said. “As far as safety or activity in the village, police and fire can take care of things until the scene is secure.”
Lenzi said he couldn’t recall the last time the Brookfield Fire Department called on ESDA for support.
“I can’t recall them being around too much for the fire department,” Lenzi said.
Alan Thomas, an 11-year Brookfield EDSA member who most recently served as the unit’s director, confirmed that the police and fire departments “don’t use us as much as Countryside or Lyons uses theirs.”
But, he added, “there’s a lot of mutual aid, so we’re not going to be lacking anything I can think of. For me, it’s a lot less work. I already have a full-time job; I don’t need another one.”
At the height of its popularity in Brookfield, ESDA claimed some 50 members and assisted on a variety of local and regional disasters, according to Jerry Giovanoni, who served as the group’s director during the 1990s.
Giovanoni credited Bud Hudepohl, a local businessman, with building ESDA into a significant local and regional contributor. In 1979, members of Brookfield ESDA helped secure the crash site of American Airlines Flight 191 outside O’Hare Airport, and spent five days helping secure the scene of a suburban oil refinery fire.
In 1990, ESDA was onsite in the aftermath of the Plainfield tornado that killed 29 people and was in downtown Chicago in 1992 pumping water from the basements of buildings after a construction accident at a bridge over the Chicago River caused the worst flood in the city’s history.
The group started losing members in the late 1990s, Giovanoni said.
“We couldn’t get young people involved,” he said. “We didn’t have the funding to pay anyone.”
Ginex said that the reason for ESDA’s reduced role in the village stemmed from an increased sophistication in multi-jurisdictional efforts when it comes to police and fire response in the Chicagoland area.
“Once things moved to bigger police, fire and mutual-aid agreements,” Ginex said, “those things went by the wayside. Especially after 9/11, in the Chicagoland area, most communities have mutual aid agreements.”
In addition, the Brookfield Police Department has its own separate auxiliary police unit, consisting of 10 volunteers. That group, Schoenfeld said, receives extensive police training and assists at every event held in the village. The auxiliary police also patrol the village’s parks during the summer months.
“They perform a ton of assistance for us,” Schoenfeld said. “If we didn’t have them, it would be tough to run a lot of events.”
The two chiefs, along with Thomas, pitched the idea of merging the two units to Countryside ESDA Coordinator Steve Norman in February. Countryside’s ESDA group has had a relationship with Brookfield for the past 15 years, according to Norman, and in the past has regularly sent personnel to assist at events such as Brookfest.
“We’re not unfamiliar with the Village of Brookfield,” Norman said. “As it is right now, we maintain our relationship with Brookfield’s police and fire departments. All they have to do is make a request and we’ll be more than happy to help them.”
Actually merging the two organizations may be a more intricate operation than meets the eye. Countryside’s 13 ESDA members, for example, are paid-on-call village employees. Norman said he and other Countryside ESDA members have a special agreement with their employers whereby they can leave work to respond to serious emergency calls.
Since Countryside has no auxiliary police, they also perform roles such as patrolling parks seven days a week.
If the Brookfield unit is absorbed into Countryside’s, Norman said that Brookfield ESDA personnel would have the opportunity to apply for a position within the Countryside entity and go through the village’s ESDA testing procedure.
The two villages would also need to work out any deal for compensation for services, Norman said. Ginex added that the discussion hadn’t proceeded that far yet. He expressed hope that Brookfield might be able limit its contribution to several vehicles and equipment owned by Brookfield ESDA.
Giovanoni said that the loss of ESDA might end up costing the village more than the expense of keeping them.
“To the people who were deeply involved, it was part of our lives,” said Giovanoni, a retired Brookfield police officer who now serves on the village’s Public Safety Committee. “We saved the village a lot of money and helped the village and residents in a lot of ways. We’re going to miss it.”