Riverside may have, in these times, an unusual way of staffing its two fire stations, but one thing you have to admire is the relative cost compared to its neighbors.
The village has never had a full-time fire department, relying instead on a cadre of paid-on-call firefighters, often employed full time as firefighters elsewhere, who must live in or near enough to the village in order to respond in a timely manner to fire emergencies.
Those firefighters are paid only when they respond to an incident, at most a few hours at a pop. There aren’t that many structure fires anymore and the village’s mutual-aid agreements with neighboring towns ensure firefighters from somewhere will always arrive at a scene.
The overwhelming majority of emergencies the fire department responds to are medical calls. For decades the village has contracted with a third party to provide those services. It’s not cheap, often approaching close to a half million dollars a year, and it’s expected to get more expensive this year – rising to an estimated $770,000.
The village does derive some revenue via private insurance as well as Medicaid and Medicare to recoup some of that expense.
Since 1998, Riverside also has staffed its second fire station, north of the tracks, only on weekdays, first from 8 to 4 and then from 8 to 6. Doing so allowed the village to have a fire engine available for immediate emergency response.
On Jan. 1, the department began staffing that station around the clock, 365 days a year. That comes with an additional cost, but those personnel are considered part-time employees with no benefits – again, often full-time firefighters elsewhere picking up a few more hours.
Despite the increases expected in paramedic services and the new around the clock staffing at Fire Station 2, the Riverside Fire Department total expense is estimated in 2023 at $1.8 million.
That’s a big increase in costs over the past decade, which fluctuated between $1.4 and $1.5 million a year. But Riverside is staffing a department with five people per shift (three firefighters and two paramedics) for a fraction of what it costs full-time departments.
North Riverside’s 2022-23 budget estimated the fire department expenses – and this is for a department that has been under staffed for several years – at almost $6.7 million. Brookfield, with two fire stations to staff fully at all times, expects to spend about $5.5 million in 2023.
We’re not sure what lessons are to be drawn from Riverside opting to run counter to what at one time was a popular decision – suburbs moving to full-time professional fire department staffing instead of consolidating resources to spread the cost around – but it sure has saved Riverside taxpayers a whole lot of money.