Inside of the Freeburg Fire Protection District engine house, the cramped quarter’s forces trucks to be within three feet of the racks where firefighters keep their turnout gear. Sometimes doors don’t have enough clearance to open.

In some places there isn’t the required three-foot clearance for a walking path.

The tight spaces in the area where engines, equipment and gear is kept is one of the reasons why the Freeburg Fire District is asking voters for permission to issue a $3.3 million bond in order to build a new fire station.

“We have very close quarters and it’s not very safe for our firefighters,” Freeburg Fire Capt. Hans Mueller said. “It’s not a very reliable building for us to work out of.”

“A typical station has gear racks behind the trucks, where guys don’t have that problem of guys getting hit as trucks are pulling out, but there’s nowhere to stick them,” Mueller said.

The Freeburg Fire bond referendum is one of three bond referendums on the April ballot in St. Clair County.

The Northwest St. Clair County Fire Protection District is asking to issue $1.55 million in bonds for a station expansion, to buy a new fire truck and to refurbish its rescue truck. The Cahokia Fire Protection District wants to issue $1 million in bonds to replace a couple of trucks for the department.

Votes on the bond referendums were put on the ballot independent of the 1 percent public safety sales tax referendum in St. Clair County.

The Freeburg Fire Protection District wants to build a new 14,953-square-foot fire station on 2.8 acres of vacant land on State Street owned by the district.

Issuing the $3.3 million in bonds is expected to cost the owner of a $100,000 house about $75 more per year for 20 years. Currently, the owner of a $100,000 house pays $81.90 to the fire district in property taxes each year.

Mueller said the district wants to replace its current station, which was built in 1956. The buildings has had two additions, one in 1970 and one in 1990.

Because there is barely enough clearance for the department’s engines, trucks are more expensive because they have to be custom built in order to fit for the fire district.

“It’s not a safe situation for the guys,” Mueller added. “Asides (sic) that, for the citizens of the community it slows us down. So it keeps us from doing our job properly. It’s not good for our training environment.”

The 1950s building also has lightweight wood, and no sprinkler system. A new building would be a metal framed building that could withstand winds higher than 100 mph.

“The power lines to the front of the building are a huge concern. If those come down, we’re out of service,” Mueller said.

The station doesn’t have hoses attached to exhaust pipes of trucks to pump the fumes away. There isn’t enough ceiling system to run an exhaust system. There is one exhaust fan, but it’s not automatic.

“It’s dangerous for the guys, Mueller said.”  You have those fumes that build up in here. (It’s) cancer causing and it absorbs into the gear.”

The district has not had any issues for any of their firefighters, “but it is a concern,” Mueller said.

The district plans to sell its current station, which would pay for cost over-runs during construction and an emergency generator. There are interested buyers for two interested parties for the building, but Mueller wouldn’t not disclose who they were.

Freeburg did try to get a similar bond referendum approved by voters about a year ago during the March 2016 primary. The district asked for a $3.9 million bond, but that referendum failed by 94 votes, according to the St. Clair County Clerk’s office.

The district then reduced its request.

“The citizens in the community here wanted us to cut, so we did; (we) cut as much as we could, and still have a reliable engine house for the community and still look presentable,” Mueller said.

Northwest Fire District

The Northwest St. Clair County Fire Protection District wants to issue $1.55 million in bonds to expand one of the district’s fire stations, buy a new fire truck and refurbish a rescue truck.

A new fire engine with a 75-foot long ladder would cost $800,000 would replace a 20-year-old truck.

“ISO (Insurance Services Office) … rates the fire department in several areas,” Fire Chief Chester Borkowski said. “One of them is equipment. Since that is a front line piece of equipment, it’s first out the door. It carries, water, men, hoses. It has a ladder and can pump. It’s critical that gets replaced on a 20-year basis.”

The district also plans to refurbish a 31-year-old rescue truck for a cost of $150,000.

The owner of a $100,000 house would pay an additional $16.40 in property taxes a year to the fire district, to help pay off the 20-year bond. Currently the owner of the same house pays $25.81 a year to the fire district.

“That is small amount to pay for the superior level of fire protection you receive from us,” Borkowski said.

The rescue truck is what carries equipment such as extrication tools and radios, and can serve as a command center during a fire.

“The intent is to purchase a new chassis and put the body, which is in excellent condition, which is going to be a significant savings to the taxpayers also,” Borkowski said.

The 1,500 square foot expansion of station one, at 1513 North Belt West, would cost about $600,000. That station was built in 1946.

Borkowski said the district needs an additional bay to acquire the large equipment used in firefighting today.

Also the bathrooms of the station would be updated to be handicap accessible.

The district would make other improvements to its first engine house including energy efficiency upgrades, and making National Fire Protection Association compliant, such as eliminating exhaust fumes, by installing hoses that attach to exhaust pipe of a fire engine, and pumps it out, Borkowski said.

The district has 9,000 people in its eight square miles.

The district gets about 260 calls a year, and 15 percent of them are fire calls, Borkowski said. The rest are automobile crashes, responding to activated alarms or assisting other departments.

Fire district board president Paris Nation said going out for a bond, which is expected to have an annual debt service of $124,000 is a good deal for residents.

“The bond is at a fixed interest rate over a long period of time, and it’s the best you can do for the customer,” Nation said. “The best buy for our constituents is a bond issue.”

Voters in the Northwest Fire District last approved a bond referendum in 1997.

“Unless we keep up the equipment we have, the ability to fight fires in our neighborhood is reduced. We have to maintain our equipment, we have to maintain our structures, protect the equipment and to protect our homes,” Nation said.

New trucks in Cahokia

The Cahokia Fire Protection District wants to issue $1,040,000 of debt to buy new firefighting trucks.

In Cahokia, the district wants to replace a 30-year-old fire truck with a 55-foot ladder truck, said Fire Chief Stephen Robbins.

“The 30-year-old truck is costing us more money to keep it on the road because we’re having trouble finding parts,” Robbins said.

The owner of a $50,000 house would pay an additional $32.12 to the fire district per year. The owner of a $100,000 house would pay an additional $64.24 to the district each year, if the referendum passes, Robbins said.

A new ladder truck would cost about $800,000.

Robbins said the truck is the district’s main truck. A recent brake repair cost $4,000 to $5,000 and included replacing the fire engine’s axle because brakes aren’t made for this particular truck anymore.

Cahokia also wants to replace its 15-year-old brush truck, which is usually used for putting out brush fires, Robbins said.

A new brush truck would cost about $200,000.

“The current levy we have, the money we’re bringing in, on top of the insurance we have pay, upkeep, maintenance and fuel, it’s not feasible to get a loan for $750,000 or $800,000 and make loan payments on the budget we have now,” Robbins said.

Robbins said the bond would be for 20 years, and the trucks should last about 20 years.

“Hopefully by then, things will change and our budget will increase,” Robbins said.

The Cahokia fire district has 25 firefighters to cover the 9.4 square miles, which has 15,000 people.

Presently residents pay $20 to $40 a year in property taxes to the Cahokia Fire District, Robbins said.

Joseph Bustos: 618-239-2451, @JoeBReporter

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