Winnebago County fire departments feel overlooked when it comes to federal funding

Published: Nov. 22, 2022 at 10:36 PM CST
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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - Winnebago county received $54 million of federal funds from the American Rescue plan yet less than $150,000 were awarded to local fire departments.

More than a dozen representatives from Winnebago County fire departments were at Tuesday’s Winnebago County Board meeting to stress that they may have been short-changed when it comes to federal dollars.

Northwest Fire Chief Jerry Caskey believes more first responders across the county should be taken into account when it comes to federal funding through the American Rescue Plan, especially considering all the work they did at the start of the pandemic.

“We were on the frontline treating patients when everybody else was told to stay away. We were going into people’s houses we were taking care of them.”

Caskey is also the vice president of the Winnebago Fire Chiefs Association, composed of fire chiefs from Winnebago and Boone Counties.

North Park Fire District received $50,000 to help build a new fire station, but they say those funds only helped with part of the construction. Other districts weren’t as fortunate.

“A lot of our ambulance programs took a hit and we lost revenue coming in off of billing because everyone was afraid to go to the hospital and no one was calling 911,” says Deputy Chief Andy Schroeder.

Winnebago County Board Chairman Joe Chiarelli says he was moved by the presentation and the board will look into it.

“The show of tonight from all the fire chiefs tells you that they are underfunded and we need to find a mechanism to make sure they are sustainable.”

Board member Dave Tassoni split his $50,000 from the Chairman’s Initiative between Northwest fire and West Suburban. He hopes there is something the board can do.

“I drive by them every day they are a stone’s throw for my residents and I know what it takes to do a job like that with no compensation.”

“This stuff isn’t a matter of needs or wants that it’s a matter of needs,” says Chief Caskey.

Chairman Chiarelli says each of the fire districts that need funds can apply for those dollars. From there Chiarelli says it will go to the appropriate committee and then to the county board if approved.

From the funds already awarded both New Milford and Cherry Valley bought new pieces of equipment.