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Antioch Rescue Squad may see fourth contract extension

Antioch Rescue  Squad vehicles parked outside their statiHolbek Drive Antioch. | Michael Schmidt~Sun-Times Media

Antioch Rescue Squad vehicles parked outside their station on Holbek Drive in Antioch. | Michael Schmidt~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: July 16, 2013 1:15AM

ANTIOCH — Village officials will vote Monday, May 20, to extend a contract for emergency medical services with the Antioch Rescue Squad. Meanwhile, they continue to work with the public safety committee to plan the future of ambulance service for residents.

It will be the fourth 11th-hour extension with ARS since an investigation by the Illinois State Department of Public Health (IDPH) one year ago uncovered incidents of violation of EMS protocols, including patient mistreatment, unprofessional conduct, breaches of confidentiality, improper use of medications and IV fluids and ARS paramedics working while under the influence of alcohol.

While First Fire District officials last week extended their contract with ARS for a year, village officials, who must act before the expiration of their current 90-day contract Tuesday, may extend it for only a few months.

“I don’t want this to drag out for another year,” said Trustee Dennis Crosby, a member of the public safety committee that includes representatives from the village, fire district, fire department and ARS. The committee is looking at how the two departments can work together to provide emergency services for the village and township.

“After six months of research and meetings, we still don’t know if ARS is the long-term answer to our community’s needs,” said Crosby. “We are light years ahead of where we were a year ago in terms of communication, but this is a painfully slow process and extending it another year may just slow it down.”

Matt Tabar, a First Fire Protection District trustee and public safety committee facilitator, said the committee has narrowed future emergency services for the village and township to two models — one is to merge fire and rescue services, the other is to continue to contract with ARS as a separate not-for-profit volunteer agency for ambulance services as they have done for more than 70 years.

“We are still analyzing both models. What we thought was a relatively simple process has turned into a complex process, much like peeling away all the layers of an onion,” said Tabar, who is urging village officials to extend the contract for a longer period to allow the committee to continue its work and make a final recommendation for the future of EMS services for the village and township.

Village trustee Mary Dominiak, a member of the public safety committee, also supports a longer contract extension. “Reaching a final recommendation can’t be accomplished in another 90 days,” she said. “Peeling back the onion layers is a good metaphor for this process.”

Tabar said he is pleased with the progress of the committee, which has met nine times since January. “We get reports each meeting from both the fire and rescue squad chiefs, and I am really pleased with the many changes implemented by ARS.”

ARS Chief Brian DeKind said among his agency’s accomplishments are the election of a new board of directors, four of which are not ARS members; a streamlined billing system, a new policy handbook for members, a field supervisor overseeing every shift, the appointment of a dedicated training officer and the purchase of a fifth ambulance.

Since IDPH issued its list of violations, former ARS Chief Wayne Sobczak and former board president Steven Smouse have resigned and treasurer John Edgell was arrested for stealing funds from the organization. The ARS has also paid fines for violations to the state EMS act and settled a sexual harassment suit made by former female paramedics.

“The past is done,” said new ARS board president Todd Thommes. “We are doing what we need to do to correct past problems and we have made improvements.The past is in the past. We are doing everything we can to move forward.”

Trustee George Sakas flat-out does not want to extend a contract with ARS because he believes the future of ambulance services should be under the oversight of the fire department. “This continues to drag on because there is a political back story that nobody wants to discuss,” said Sakas, pointing out the community’s strong feelings for and against the ARS. “This lies on the fault line of politics and there has been a lot of maneuvering behind the scenes.”

Newly-elected trustee Jerry Johnson said during several months of campaigning, he encountered much public distrust of the current system of contracting with ARS. “Most people I talked to want to know why this is taking so long and why we keep extending contracts in the meantime,” said Johnson. “We need a date certain to resolve this. I want to get it right, but time is of the essence as far as the public is concerned.”

“The right thing for us to do is find the true answer to the future of fire and rescue services and do what is best for everyone,” said Crosby. “Yes, we see some accomplishments by ARS, but this is not all happy talk now after a shocking meltdown by this organization last year.”

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