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Council hears calls to share fire duties

Blackert: City would be 'host' in administrative consolidation

ROCK FALLS – The city of Rock Falls Tuesday posed its own recommendations on how to combine its top fire department positions with Sterling’s, including that Rock Falls serve as the host community in an administrative consolidation.

City Administrator Robbin Blackert presented the findings of a study commissioned by Sterling to determine whether money could be saved by combining the two fire departments and CGH Emergency Medical Services.

Rather than combine, consultant Robert Finn recommends consolidating the top four fire administrative service positions into three.

Rock Falls Deputy Chief Gary Cook has been serving as Sterling’s interim fire chief for 2 years.

Tuesday, the Rock Falls City Council extended its contract with Cook until April 30. Sterling also will vote on the extension. Cook’s contract now is set to expire on Dec. 31.

Blackert began her presentation by making clear no administrative consolidations would take place until Rock Falls Chief J.W. Larson retires.

She summarized Finn’s findings:

“Right now, with the sharing of the deputy chief as their interim chief, we’re saving $45,000 a year,” Blackert said. “They reimburse us monthly $3,811. It’s been a success up to this point; more importantly, it’s also been a positive step in moving the operations of both agencies to function more as a single response for emergency scenes.”

Blackert said this makes residents and firefighters safer.

Finn’s report recommends continuing the joint operation already in place. That means the chief would be a Rock Falls employee but would serve as chief of both departments, and there would be a Rock Falls employee serving as deputy chief of operations and a Sterling employee serving as the deputy chief who handles fire prevention.

“What Chief Cook has done in Sterling at this point has been phenomenal, and I think their situation is improving over there and I think it’s working out well,” Blackert said. “We just want to build off that positive momentum.”

Council members agreed to give Blackert permission to begin negotiating with Sterling on how joint administrative services would work.

Blackert said she would begin working to form a negotiating committee. Negotiations would begin in the near future, she said.

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