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Obstacles to consolidating fire services laid out

River necessitates ‘resources on both sides’

STERLING – Combining Sterling and Rock Falls fire departments and CGH EMS services won’t save any money, but sharing equipment might, a consultant told the City Council Monday.

Robert Finn of Texas-based Matrix Consulting Group is a former police chief and fire chief. He was tasked with studying if there was a potential to improve services by merging both fire departments, by merging both fire and Emergency Medical Services, by sharing some services, or simply by improving their working relationships, Finn said.

Combining the two fire departments is not a good idea, in part because “[having] a river that separates the two communities automatically would dictate from an emergency standpoint that you should have resources on both sides,” Finn said.

He cited the existing system’s positives:

The departments on both sides of the river already work closely together through a mutual aid agreement that means both respond to fires in either community.

The two departments already train together.

All three agencies have consolidated 911 and dispatch services in a single dispatch center at CGH Medical Center, according to the report.

And Rock Falls Deputy Fire Chief Gary Cook also is Sterling’s interim chief, a move that has “really allowed some better streamlining of operations, some looks at policies and things that can be done better between the two agencies,” Finn said.

“Everyone we talked to, everyone we interviewed across the board from all three agencies, talked about how beneficial the sharing of that administrative position has been.”

Cook’s joint contract ends in December, and both towns must decide whether to extend it.

There are other logistical problems that “would make full consolidation of emergency respones a challenge” – for example, the pension structure is different for each fire department and for CGH EMS, Finn said in the report.

There is room for improvement, he noted.

Moving EMS staff to the fire stations would improve response times, and consolidating the fire inspection program, standardizing their standard operating procedures and developing a method for sharing paid-on-call personnel would streamline services, Finn said.

His conclusion: The similarities “underscore the need to continue finding ways to work closely together,” but consolidation is not recommended.

Sterling Mayor Skip Lee said Rock Falls City Administrator Robbin Blackert will present the results of the study to the Rock Falls City Council at an upcoming meeting.

City fixes mistake in liquor code

STERLING – The City Council on Monday made minor changes to the liquor code to correct a typo in the language governing when alcohol can be sold.

An attorney noted the error at a hearing before the city's three-member liquor commission last week.

Section 6-6(a)(2) was changed to read: "No person other than a licensee or an agent of the licensee shall remain upon any licensed premises between the hours of 1:15 a.m. and 6 a.m. on any day of any week."

The previous language referred to 1:15 p.m.

In addition, section 6-6(a)(3) was clarified to state that "no person, including a licensee, shall remain upon any licensed premises between the hours of 2:15 a.m. and 6 a.m. on any day of the week; also, all of the bars and tables upon any licensed premises shall be cleared and the glasses removed not later than such times."

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