Wonder Lake fire district sees exodus with 11 resignations since June

Chief, board president say staff leaving for full-time jobs

Since June, 11 staff members have resigned from the Wonder Lake Fire Protection District.

Those resignations include the deputy fire chief, a battalion chief, two lieutenants and several firefighters with emergency medical technician or paramedic certifications.

Three new staff members have been hired to help fill those vacancies. The fire district now has 31 part-time firefighters, EMTs and paramedics, down from 40 in June.

Although there “may be other reasons people resigned,” the issue of losing staff from part-time fire departments is not unique to Wonder Lake, Fire Chief Mike Weber said.

“What is going on is it is a lot easier to get a job now at a full-time department if you have certifications,” Weber said.

Those resignations include former Deputy Chief Chris Weber. Weber, 40, left the department Aug. 8 after he was placed on administrative leave June 27 pending a department investigation.

What is going on is it is a lot easier to get a job now at a full-time department if you have certifications.”

—  Wonder Lake Fire Protection District Chief Mike Weber

Fire board president Todd Rishling said many of the resignations came from staff leaving the department for larger, full-time fire departments. The Wonder Lake district only offers part-time employment.

“We had a very large group of people get hired full time, at full-time departments,” Rishling said.

In a review of those resignation letters, if the person provided a reason they included needing more hours to finish paramedic school, four who indicated they took positions elsewhere and one who wanted to spend more time with a young child.

With reduced staff, the department has needed to rely on mutual aid responses from neighboring fire districts and fire departments, according to records provided via a Freedom of Information Act request.

In June, Wonder Lake’s fire district had 10 requests for mutual aid. In October, that number had risen to 24.

When residents call 911 for a medical or fire response, they will get a response with a rig from Wonder Lake, Weber said.

However, instead of that ambulance coming with a firefighter/paramedic and two EMTs, it may be only one or two responders, with another ambulance coming from the Woodstock, McHenry Township or Richmond Township fire districts, Weber said.

If a call comes in for a structure or house fire, a mutual aid call automatically will go out, calling for aid from the Woodstock, McHenry, Spring Grove, Richmond Township and the Hebron-Alden-Greenwood departments, Weber said.

By the end of November, four additional part-time firefighters with several years of experience are set to start.

“It is going to be better at the end of this month,” Weber said.

Wonder Lake has made a “mad rush” to hire more staff, Weber said.

With the certifications and training the district is receiving from the new hires, he said, “we could end up better than what we had before.”

The reality is that it has become easier to get hired on at a larger department offering full-time benefits after being trained at a small department, Weber said.

“At these little departments, we are spending time and money and efforts to train” new firefighters who then move on to a bigger department, Weber said.