Custer Fire secures dispatch service

Marney Simon
Staff writer

Custer Park is one step closer to operating its own services out of the fire station along Route 113.

Late last month, the Custer Park Fire Department secured dispatching services through the Will County Sheriff’s Department’s new Laraway Communications Center.

Custer Fire Protection District Board of Trustees President Ron Pruss said that while a full vote on accepting Custer Park has yet to happen in front of a majority Board of Directors, the Executive Board extended the department a year-by-year contract until the full vote makes its way through.

In March, Custer Township residents voted to fund the fire district, via a referendum to increase property taxes.

The district collects about $77,000 in property taxes annually. The district currently pays 80 percent of its ambulance service levy to Braidwood fire, keeping 20 percent for ambulance service related expenditures such as the audit. The cost of fire protection services from Braidwood is $1,200 per call, with a maximum of $18,000.

District officials had worried that Custer Township was at risk because of delayed response times from Braidwood, in part due to the train and truck traffic, but also due to increased calls in their own district.

The district will hold a truth in taxation hearing in the fall, to begin collecting the cash from that referendum.

The referendum will allow the fire protection district to keep its own fire station, and set its own tax rate. The current rate in Custer Township for the corporate fund is .1281, and the current rate for the ambulance fund is .0900.

The passed referendum will increase the rate on only the corporate fund to .4000, the maximum capped rate allowed by the Property Tax Extension Limit Law (PTELL). That increase will mean an annual tax increase of $136 for a $150,000 home, and will increase revenue in the corporate fund by more than $96,000 annually.

In the meantime, Pruss said the department is working to get back into MABAS, and is also in the process of teaching an emergency medical response class to get volunteers properly certified.

Pruss said the department’s 28-person roster is the most dedicated and selfless group of volunteers he’s ever worked with in more than two decades with the fire service. Only about half the volunteer staff lives in Custer Park, but each of them dedicate eight service hours per month at the station.

“It’s business as usual,” Pruss said. “A lot of the big expenses have been taken care of, we got our new gear, and the trucks are ready to go.”

Pruss said the department was especially grateful to the late Bradley Veerman, who served as executive director of the new Laraway Road Communications Center. Veerman passed away unexpectedly in July, but Pruss said he had been integral in pushing Custer Park’s fire department through the process, citing pivotal safety concerns as a reason to get Custer Park on board as soon as possible.

For now, when a Custer Park resident calls 911 for a fire call, the call is still sent to WESCOM for Braidwood dispatch.

The department will continue to utilize Braidwood until the first of the year. Pruss said that while the intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with Braidwood fire would allow Custer Park to begin accepting calls on its own within 90 days, a clean start-up on Jan. 1 will allow easier tracking of annual stats. Per the IGA, once Custer Park is ready for dispatch, the fire service with Braidwood will fall away, but ambulance service will remain the same.

Pruss said if the volunteer roster stays steady, the fire house should be manned regularly.

“Most of the time, we’re going to have someone at the fire station ready to respond,” Pruss said.

The Custer Fire Protection District serves approximately 1,400 residents, protecting 612 structures and 25 square miles.

The district holds monthly meetings that are open to the public. Those meetings are held the third Wednesday of the month at 6 p.m. at the fire house.