When the Wheaton Fire Department formed an departments a little over a year ago, they went from having full access to the resources of its three stations to that of 10 stations in the area.
Having the additional resources has resulted in quicker responses to calls, stronger communication between departments and more unified procedures.
While the Wheaton Fire Department has always been in the business of working with its neighbors, the alliance has taken the practice of collaboration to the next level, Wheaton Deputy Fire Chief Bill Schultz said Friday.
“We decided we … want to break the jurisdictional boundaries down and be able to pull as many resources as we can into an incident as quickly as we can so we can try to have a more positive outcome,” he said.
When two fires broke out Thursday morning within blocks of each other at Wheaton North High School and at a vacant house on Armbrust Avenue, there was little time to get to both incidents.
Without the alliance, he said, “We would have had to pull from farther away to get help… Yesterday, Winfield sent multiple resources to us (Carol Stream and West Chicago also sent multiple resources), so we were able to really get on top of things very quickly.”
More than 90 fire personnel from 13 departments were involved with the vacant house fire, including those who were cleared to leave the Wheaton North incident and others to provide station coverage in the area, in addition to personnel on the scene, Schultz said.
With the previous system, Schultz said Wheaton would have gotten one, maybe two trucks quickly, but then would have seen a longer delay before receiving the next level of response. Thirteen vehicles responded to the Wheaton North incident and 29 vehicles responded to the house fire, Schultz said.
When a house caught fire on Shady Lane earlier this month, one truck from a station on Wheaton’s south side got stuck waiting for a train on President Street, but the “numerous resources” coming from the north were able to get there quickly, Schultz said.
“It’s a matter of trying to flood the area with resources and have contingencies and enough manpower."
The switch to a unified dispatch system required coordination from the departments as they had to develop common response procedures and training, according to a news release from the City of Wheaton. It also required DU-COMM to completely reprogram the computer-aided dispatch system for the departments.
Wheaton Fire Chief Greg Berk said in a statement last year that the alliance departments would eventually begin working on other initiatives, including cooperative purchasing activities and resource sharing.
“In this time of tight budgets, the move toward cooperative services just makes sense. To be able provide more efficient, cost-effective services is a great benefit to our community," he said.
Schultz said the benefits of the alliance go beyond the manpower and equipment.
"We worked very well with each other before … But again, we’ve been trying to take it to the next level and we’ve seen improvements in our training, we’re using common terminology and common day-to-day operations … Sharing resources and (have) future goals of looking for ways for cost containment, for budgeting, purchasing power in numbers—groups, rather than individuals," he said.
“(In a time of need,) time is our enemy,” he said, “So the more resources we can put into the affected incident, the quicker we can impact it and have an outcome that is hopefully positive.”