Durbin and Kirk Announce Federal Grant to Prevent Layoffs at Waukegan Fire Department
[WAUKEGAN, IL] – The Waukegan Fire Department will be able to retain five fully trained and qualified firefighters as a result of a $1,229,990 federal grant through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) said today. The Waukegan Fire Department is being awarded the grant to pay the salaries and benefit costs of five additional firefighters for two years.
“The firefighters here today embody public service—they are prepared and willing to put themselves in harm’s way to protect the people of Waukegan. Reductions in their number can lead to longer response times, and hinders their ability to respond when they are needed most. Today’s funding will allow the Waukegan Fire Department to retain five of their firefighters who are already trained and proven in the field. In addition to preventing layoffs, this grant will increase preparedness and help the largest fire department in Lake County maintain the fire emergency services their residents expect,” Durbin said.
“Like cities across America, the City of Waukegan has been grappling with serious financial issues in the wake of the Great Recession,” Kirk said. “It is imperative that our emergency responders are always properly equipped and staffed to keep our communities safe. I know Waukegan city officials—as well as the city’s residents—are grateful the Department of Homeland Security selected the City of Waukegan to receive these funds.”
Funding for the grant is provided through the Department of Homeland Security’s Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response Grants (SAFER) Program, which seeks to strengthen the nation’s overall level of preparedness by increasing the number of trained firefighters available in communities. The grant will be used to fund the full salary and benefits for five firefighters, four of whom had received notice they would soon be laid off, and ensures that the Waukegan Fire Department will be able to maintain current staffing levels for at least the next two years.
The Waukegan Fire Department responds to 10,000 emergency calls – including 6,000 rescue calls – and 250 fire events per year. The Department owns 5 ambulances, 4 fire engines, and 1 ladder truck. However, due to low staffing levels, stations may not have enough personnel to respond to multiple emergencies at one time, despite having the available equipment. This means that if a second call comes in, another station must respond, often doubling the response time to the call. Understaffing also means that firefighters are less able to provide frequent fire prevention services to the community, such as classroom visits.
“A fire department can have the newest fire trucks and the best equipment, but without the dedicated firefighters who are ready to put their lives on the line, a community is not truly safe,” Durbin said.
Many of the Department’s firefighters are also trained paramedics, allowing them to fulfill dual roles as emergency first responders. The Waukegan Fire Department also includes specialty rescue teams, such as the Dive Rescue Team. Members are certified to respond to water-related emergencies, including ice dives and deep water dives in Lake Michigan. In addition, the Waukegan Fire Department serves as the Hazardous Device (Bomb) Team for Lake and McHenry Counties.
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