2017 was North Park Fire Protection District's busiest year yet

MACHESNEY PARK, Ill. (WIFR) -- 2017 was North Park Fire Protection District's busiest year yet.

Sheila Filipowicz says she is extremely thankful for the North Park Fire Protection District’s quick response time when her family needed them the most back in June.

"We had a car drive through our house and our house started on fire and they were there very quickly. It could have been much worse, it contained to half the house thanks to their quick response. Firemen risk their lives every day and we appreciate it greatly," said Sheila Filipowicz, a Machesney Park resident.

Filipowicz says the firefighters were very personable and one even went back in the home to find their personal belongings.

"He made a point to come to us, he looked so hard for those things that meant the most," said Filipowicz.

Fire chief Joel Hallstrom says they have seen an increase in demand in the past year because people who live in the area are getting older. He says about 90% of their calls were EMS calls. Chief Hallstrom says all of Winnebago County saw an increase in calls is past year. The agencies in the county rely on each other to help with incidents, so their mutual aid requests have gone up as well.

The fire department responded to 1,750 calls in 2017, which is 193 more calls than 2016.

"We're happy to meet those demands, I think the real concern we have is that we have an increasing demand for services and on our personnel and on our equipment like the wear and tear, but our budget has stayed stagnant," said chief Hallstrom.

Chief Hallstrom says his department is the busiest in Winnebago County that doesn't rely on paid staffing 24/7 to ensure calls for service are answered.

"People just grow accustomed to expecting firefighters to show up and they don't understand that these aren't full time, union, career, highly paid individuals. It’s people who are doing it because of a love or desire to grow in their future and I just don't want them to take what we have for granted," said Chief Hallstrom.

"They’re there when you need them, and we were very thankful for that," said Filipowicz.

Chief Hallstrom says some of the North Park firefighters are paid, but others who work many nights and weekends are volunteers.

"The public should be aware that when we ask for help or we go to a referendum, it's not because we are trying to be greedy or manipulate tax dollars in a way that maybe isn't appropriate, we're just trying to improve the services that we offer to the community," said Chief Hallstrom.

The fire department says they are always looking for more volunteers who are interested in working their way up to be career firefighters, to help meet the departments increasing demand.

"I could name a handful of guys that are on our department now that I'm sure in the next couple years will be career somewhere else, and I hate to see them go but it makes me proud to know that somehow this group of guys and gals has developed them into something that is marketable for another agency," said Chief Hallstrom.

If you are interested in working with North Park fire, go to https://northparkfd.com/recruitment/