Volunteer firefighters in Gardner, Ill., say the village is preventing them from providing necessary assistance in emergency response by cutting their funding and repossessing their equipment.
A county judge ruled Wednesday that Grundy County Sheriff Terry Marketti can seize the volunteer department's property and hand it over to the Gardner Fire Protection District if the Gardner Volunteer Fire Department can't pay a bond to retain their equipment, the Morris Daily Herald reports. The dispute stems from a vote by the district to remove the volunteer department Chief Randy Wilkey amid concerns about finance mismanagement, launching a debate over whether the volunteer force is a separate entity, or under the district's supervision.
No criminal charge have been filed against Wilkey, but with Wednesday's ruling behind them, the fire protection district has effectively shut down the volunteer department, the Herald News reports. Recently-hired District Fire Chief Terry Jensen and his team will now be responsible for emergency calls from the town with some, but not all, volunteer firefighters joining the district team.
Wilkey told CBS Chicago that the volunteer team has been told they could be arrested for responding to an emergency call, which Annette Aichele, a 17-year veteran of the force, called "devastating."
“It would take maybe 10 minutes for another department to come in and help; and minutes could cost somebody their life," Aichele told the station.
Grundy is located 60 miles southwest of Chicago and has a population of 1,463.
The district argues that volunteer firefighters have refused to turn over receipts that could settle concerns over taxpayer funding.