PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) – Peoria fire officials are, again, asking for public safety resources to be restored.
This comes after back-to-back weekend house fires where three firefighters were injured, two of which briefly ended up in the hospital.
Rubble, grime, and debris are all the charred remains from one of the fires Saturday night/Sunday morning at the 800 block of West Richmond avenue.
“There wasn’t a crew on Saturday night, early Sunday morning that works in the city of Peoria that wasn’t involved in these two fires,” Jim Bachman, Peoria fire chief, said. “We used every resource we had and in fact, we called in five extra people.”
Bachman thanked all of the responding firefighters and said he couldn’t be more proud of them.
“It was a tough night, but the firefighters for sure did an excellent job,” Bachman said.
He said two of the five extra bodies called in were to replace two captains who were burned while battling the fire and had to be taken to the hospital. He said all of the injured firefighters are home recovering.
Bachman also said after previously coming off of another fire on Underhill Street, the heat, exhaustion, and wet gear began to take a toll on other firefighters.
“All of the crews, with the heat and everything they’d been through, were pretty exhausted,” Bachman said. “The guys were just spent.”
Bachman said two homes were deemed a total loss and said this brought the number of emergency demolitions due to fires this year to about 14 compared to only 10 from last year. He said the fires are starting to get ahead of them and the reduced staffing makes it harder to get to them in time to spray them down.
He said he recognizes the city’s financial issues, but said having more manpower would be a help.
“We understand that that’s really difficult this time the way the city’s finances are, but certainly another fire machine could’ve made a difference in putting a quicker stop on this fire,” Bachman said. “We wouldn’t be saying we’d like to see Engine 2 come back just for the sake of saying we’d like to see engine 2 come back.”
Ryan Brady, president of Peoria Firefighter’s Local 50, said Saturday’s close call should be a wake-up call for city leaders.
“The last thing we want to see is a civilian or firefighter injury or tragedy or even worse, loss of life because we can’t put enough firefighters on the scene in one of these incidents,” Brady said.
He said 33 fire suppression positions have been lost since 2019.
Brady said he wants city leaders to consider allocating some of its Local Fiscal Recovery Funds, from the American Rescue Plan, to the fire department.
“This money was specifically set aside by President Biden and his administration to restore public safety resources that were lost as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Brady said. “Hopefully our council prevails and make the right decision and restore this money because we desperately need it.”
Chuck Grayeb, second district councilman, said he’s advocating for this but said the decision on how to spend the remaining $36.7 million from the fund comes down to the council as a whole.
“The Rescue Act funds allow us to replenish or replace jobs that were lost during the pandemic but the council has to make that decision and decide to fill those positions once again,” Grayeb said. “We have a few years to figure it out but we’re going to have to move quickly because lives are endangered now. We saw that with the firefighters who were injured just recently.”
Back in June, Patrick Urich, city manager, said the funds can be used to support public health response, to address negative economic impacts, to replace public sector revenue loss, for premium pay for essential workers, for water and sewer infrastructure, and broadband infrastructure.
However, he mentioned it’s not an ongoing stream of revenue and once it’s gone, it’s gone. Council members discussed taking time to figure out the most efficient ways to use the money.
All the funds have to be obligated by until Dec. 31, 2024 and spent by Dec. 31 2026.