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County buys emergency command vehicle to bolster disaster response

Those who witnessed the emergency response on Cemetery Road during the April flooding in Grundy County have no doubt that the presence of an emergency response command van onsite was beneficial... if not a lifesaver.

“That really made a difference,” said Grundy County Board Chairman Ron Severson Tuesday night. “You had one control center, kind of like the brains of the operation.”

The problem, as local emergency officials see it, however, is that those brains belonged to someone else.

The emergency command vehicle used that day was on loan from Will County, and was only available because no location in Will County was experiencing a similar flood emergency at the time.

If it had been, Grundy County would have been left with its undersized command vehicle -- a retooled ambulance donated by Coal City -- or forced to wait for the arrival of a command vehicle from somewhere else ... if one was even available.

“As quick as that water came up,” Severson said. “I would hate to be waiting or someone from Bureau County to get here.”

After a vote by the Grundy County Board on Tuesday, however, local emergency responders will never be put in that predicament.

If the county needs an emergency command vehicle, it will have one of its own.

The board, by a unanimous vote — including a favorable nod from new board member Douglas Boresi, who was sworn in earlier Tuesday evening — agreed to purchase an emergency command vehicle at a cost not to exceed $155,000.

“I know this is a tough situation fiscally, but this is something that’s going to be around for a long time,” said Severson.

Still, board member Chris Balkema wondered why the committee of first responders had chosen what he mistakenly believed was the most-expensive vehicle considered, instead of one priced around $117,000 that was first considered.

Morris Fire Protection and Ambulance District Chief Tracey Steffes corrected Balkema on the price of the most-expensive vehicle considered, which was around $282,000, but he did acknowledge the vehicle being purchased was also not the most inexpensive one.

“The main reason for the change,” Steffes said, “was the first one had a fiberglass body on it, while the one we are looking at purchasing is made out of aluminum.”

There were questions about durability with the fiberglass body, as well as extra expenses that would have stemmed from the need to install an aluminum grounding plate.

That plate, Steffes said, would not have actually fit because of the space needed for 17 antennas on the vehicle.

The fire chief also noted they had opted for a heavy duty chasis, which should help the vehicle last for 15 to 20 years.

“Personally, I think this vehicle will be a good asset for the county,” said John Galloway, who defended the purchase when Frank Halpin questioned whether it was a good use of money when several other such vehicles were already on the roads in Illinois, and especially in close proximity to Grundy County.

Severson and others noted that it is fully expected the county will not end up shouldering the full cost of the vehicle. The chairman noted that Diamond Mayor Terry Kernc has already offered to approach her village council about donating $1 per resident toward the cost of the vehicle.

It is hoped that other municipalities will consider doing the same.

Additionally, Severson has already spoken with a representative of Exelon’s Dresden Nuclear Station regarding the possibility of contributing toward the cost of the vehicle.

But, even if contributions are not received, most board members acknowledged that having such a vehicle will be beneficial in the long term.

“Safety has to be our absolute number one priority,” said Balkema.

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