Firefighters with the volunteer Lisbon-Seward Fire Protection District are pleading their case before their board of trustees to accept some donated equipment and vehicles, as well as some additional training that they say will help retain volunteers and possibly grow their ranks.
The district covers about 65 square miles, including most of Lisbon Township and portions of Big Grove, Na-Au-Say, and Seward townships. The district has two stations – one in Plattville and another in Lisbon – and two fire chiefs in Tim Wallace and Patrick Pope.
The district is overseen by a three-member board of trustees – Jim Horton, Tom Fletcher and Scott Steffes.
Wallace and Pope, along with the fire department membership, presented a proposal to the board at the August meeting.
“In order for the department to move forward in a positive direction, the officers and firefighters of Company 1 and Company 2 are proposing the following to the board of trustees,” the proposal read. “1. declare Engines 225, 226, and 227 as surplus; 2. Upon making necessary repairs, Engine 220 will be placed in reserve status as the back-up engine for the district; 3. Accept a $20,000 donation from Company 1 and Company 2 towards an updated frontline rescue engine for Station 1 (Lisbon); 4. Accept the donation of a refurbished 55-foot snorkel with current pump test and aerial certification.”
The proposal continued, “The members feel that with the acceptance of the above, the district will be able to ensure the successful completion of the following objectives: 1. Replace aging equipment dating back to the 1960s; 2. Provide a higher level of service to those we volunteer to serve; Retain members; 4. Recruit new members; 5. Increase our level of training; 6. Restore morale.”
The board is expected to discuss the proposal at its next meeting, scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 18, at the Lisbon fire station at 104 S. Canal St.
Wallace said the proposal is trying to address the issue of aging vehicles and retaining volunteers on a department that, like so many across the country, is having a challenging time hanging on to members.
“The volunteer fire department is changing, not just here but nationwide,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is overcome that and keep people’s interest. So we presented this proposal to the trustees so we can keep this district going, like it has been but in a better fashion, which is in the end going to be better for the residents and the firefighters.”
Wallace, who owns his own business, said it used to be that volunteers easily could leave their jobs to go on a call. But those days are over, he said.
“The employers aren’t too keen about that anymore,” Wallace said. “So we’re relying on just who’s in the area.”
Pope, who works full-time at John Deere, said his chief duties are done on lunch breaks and during the evenings and weekends.
phone calls during lunch breaks and stuff like that,” he said.
Wallace said that even though it’s technically a part-time job, being chief is “almost like a full-time job, just because of what’s required.”
Pope, who has been with the department for 17 years, said he empathized with the trustees trying to stay within budget, but that the firefighters want the equipment to get the job done right.
‘We’re just trying to keep up,” he said. “With the budget and the trustees, we know it’s hard. So we just look at our fire calls and say, OK, what’s going to be the best for our members, to get the job done in the safest and most effective manner.”
Wallace was a part-time firefighter for Bolingbrook for 20 years and then when that program ended, he joined Lisbon-Seward and has now been chief for the past eight years.
“We put a lot of our money and other people’s money into this department,” he said. “We don’t have a big budget, but we still have to respond to the calls and be prepared. So you want to show up with the right tools to get the job done.”
And the fire chiefs have been putting in the time to save taxpayers’ money, getting equipment donated and recently obtaining grant funds for their radio desk and day room at the Plattville station.
As an example, Wallace showed a four-wheel-drive rescue vehicle that he bought and donated that was outfitted using donated labor and equipment. He said the vehicle can be used for rescues in farm fields and other hard-to-reach areas, a plus when the district is composed of mostly rural properties. The vehicle is the third Wallace has donated to the department.
“Our area is mostly agricultural – you can have an accident out in the field with a farmer, and with this vehicle being four-wheel-drive, we can go right to the problem,” he said.
Horton, who was at the Plattville station while Wallace and Pope gave their tour, rejected any suggestion that there were issues between the firefighters and chiefs, and the trustees.
“We get a proposal every year,” he said. “We talk about things they’re gonna be needing. That is not an issue.”
However, the part of the proposal involving the snorkel truck, a fire truck that includes a mechanical bending arm that would allow firefighters to reach high places such as grain bins for rescue operations, was not something Horton was willing to discuss.
“That I’m not gonna talk about,” he said.
Wallace explained that he had bought the 1987 model truck last year after the Orland Fire Protection District decided they were going to sell it. He said local departments were willing to equip the truck and the Orland department was going to donate training for the vehicle. Wallace said the vehicle would not have cost the taxpayers of the district one cent.
But when the offer to donate the vehicle was brought to the board last August, they voted it down.
Wallace said he hopes the board will again consider the donation of the vehicle, as he said it’s something that the department needs, which is why it’s included in this latest proposal.
Horton said the district’s firefighters have sufficient equipment and that maintenance and other costs, such as the payments on a 2016 engine that recently was purchased, add up in an annual budget that usually totals about $125,000.
“I think they have sufficient stuff, yes,” he said. “We try and keep up. Just the maintenance anymore is a big deal.”
He added, “We spend quite a bit of money; everybody thinks we’re hoarding it.”
The Lisbon-Seward tax rate is 24.22 cents per $100 of EAV, compared to Bristol-Kendall at 74.25 cents and Oswego at 73.77 cents. The Lisbon-Seward portion of the property tax bill on an average $200,000 home is about $161.46 without including any exemptions.
Horton said the trustees have to think of the taxpayers, as well as the firefighters.
“We’re trying to look out for the people of the district, too, you know?” he said.