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County, city finalize merger of fire services
As part of its pact with the county, Springfield will build a new fire station to replace the existing city facility. - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

Effingham County commissioners and Springfield City Council members have approved a pact merging their respective fire departments.

Under the agreement, Effingham County Fire and Rescue will provide fire protection for the city, and the city’s three full-time paid firefighters will become county employees.

A contract between the county and the city has been under discussion for several months, said county administrator Toss Allen.

“Staff of the county and staff of the city have had many discussions over a long period of time,” he said.

The city and county also held two workshops to go over the proposed deal.

“We really didn’t change anything, other than to clarify the agreement a little bit,” Allen said.

With the merger, the city’s ISO rating is expected to be a 4/4Y.

County and city staffs finalized the city’s equipment list that the county will buy at a cost of $600,000. The first payment of $200,000 will be made within 30 days of the merger going into effect, and the county will pay the city $100,000 annually until the balance is paid off.

“Everybody kind of agrees this is a decent price,” Allen said.

Under the terms of the agreement, the county will no longer provide service delivery payments for Springfield’s fire coverage outside its city limits. Instead, the county will collect the city’s fire fees.

The contract calls for the city’s three full-time firefighters to become county employees. Springfield Fire Chief Travis Zitterour, who is a full-time city employee, will become a battalion chief with the county department.

The agreement also means the county has to hire six additional firefighters. A review of the county’s fire protection services recommended the county bring on board nine new firefighters, whether or not the county and city merged departments.

One of the issues that had to be ironed between the county and the city was how the city’s firefighters’ benefits and retirement would carry over to the county system.

The start date for the county’s fire coverage of the city is July 1.

“Springfield will provide coverage up until ours kicks in,” Allen said.

As part of the agreement, Springfield will build a new fire station in a more advantageous location than its current locale. The city will lease the new station to the county for $1 a year. The county will move its headquarters from its station on Highway 21 in Shawnee to the station the city will build, and the Shawnee station will remain open. The county’s Courthouse Road station also will become unmanned. The fire training apparatus will remain there but the computers used for training will move to the new headquarters.

The station Springfield will build will accommodate a 24-hour two-man engine company. The current Springfield Fire station isn’t big enough to accommodate 24-hour crews and trucks also can be blocked in by traffic on adjoining roads.

If the county builds a station within a half-mile of the city limits, the city can annex that property.

Current county fire fees were $80 for residences and $250 for commercial buildings. City adopted a $60 per year fee for residences and a rate of 3 cents per square foot for commercial buildings, with a minimum base charge of $150.

The city has two fire engines and two trucks called Attack 1 and Attack 2, along with a truck being outfitted for hazardous material incidents.