ROCK FALLS – The City Council likely will vote tonight to terminate the Twin City Joint Fire Command, an intergovernmental agreement between Sterling and Rock Falls that’s been in place nearly 8 years.
The agreement, approved in late September 2013, combined the administrative functions of the two fire departments.
It was promoted as a way to streamline operations by giving both departments, which already backed each other during calls, the same protocols and standard operating procedures while also coordinating equipment and vehicle purchases to reduce or eliminate redundancies.
It was not expected to save a lot of money, although it did combine the two chief’s positions into one, saving one salary.
In this case, it saved Rock Falls about $45,000 a year, city officials said at the time. That’s in part because the two towns split the cost of the chief’s salary and benefits, based on population, which meant Sterling picked up about 60% of the tab.
Now the two entities will go back to pre-agreement days, each with its own fire chief. They still will respond to each other’s fires and train together, as they did for decades before the agreement.
The dissolution comes as the two towns were having a difficult time finding, and agreeing on, a replacement for Chief Gary Cook.
Cook was the Sterling fire chief and Rock Falls deputy fire chief when he was tapped to be the first chief of the joint command. Under the new structure, he had two deputy fire chiefs who represented both cities.
Cook, who retired in early July, was “the perfect person at the perfect time,” Rock Falls City Administrator Robbin Blackert said.
“Recruiting for this position now is difficult, just like for any other employer out there,” she said.
The two towns did agree on one candidate; he accepted the job then changed his mind.
“We agreed on candidate number one, and couldn’t come to an agreement on number two,” or on whether or who should serve as an interim chief, Blackert said.
Rock Falls likely now will promote someone from within the ranks, and perhaps reconsider the joint structure when the existing leadership of both departments begins to retire, she said.
Sterling is not in favor of the dissolution, City Manager Scott Shumard said.
“The Sterling council is hoping that they keep the current structure in place,” Shumard said. “I think we see that there’s a benefit to having one person to [oversee] everything from training to purchasing, so that we’re ensuring that we’re not overbuying equipment, buying anything that’s not compatible, and training on the same standards.”
The 30 or so members of both departments have gelled, though, and neither Shumard or Blackert expect anything to be any different from the public’s point of view when it comes to service and response, they said.
“The two departments work well enough together that I’m sure in all likelihood we’ll eventually promote from within, so it will be the same people working together,” Shumard said. “The cooperation is still there.”
The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. in Council Chambers, 603 W. 10th St. Meetings also are broadcast on public access Channel 5. Go to rockfalls61071.net for the complete agenda.