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PJ Preparing For The Future

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Fire, Rescue Units Ready For Bridge Opening

By Joel Stevens, Associate Editor

PACIFIC JUNCTION - The City of Pacific Junction hosted a meeting last week to discuss the future of the city’s volunteer fire and rescue department with representatives from its four-township coverage area.

    Representatives from the St. Mary’s, Lyons, Plattville, Oak and Glenwood townships got a tour of the fire department station and a crash course in fire department budgeting from Chief Donnie Kates about the department.
    “I think the meeting went great,” said Kates. “It’s good to get the township folk in and the county supervisors and talk to them and go over everything. It’s something we want to do on a more regular basis.”
    Kates said the intent of the meeting was to plot a course for the fire department as it navigates changes in its volunteer base and the impending needs of the unit with the anticipated 2014 opening of the Highway 34 Bridge.
Pacific Junction Mayor Jim Lovely said estimates are that call volume for the Pacific Junction fire department will triple with the bridge opening.
    “Long term, our goal is to continue to provide the best service we can for the town of Pacific Junction and the townships we provide service for,” Lovely said. “In order to do that,  to provide the most up-to-date and professional squad we can, everybody involved has to be aware of the costs associated with providing these services.”
    The Pacific Junction Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department has a 76 square mile response area, including 24 miles of Interstate 29. According to average daily traffic flow estimated, more than 11,000 cars pass Pacific Junction on Interstate 29 and another 10,000 pass by on Highway 34.
    The department has a certified EMT or paramedic on duty most days, but the majority of the department’s staff is volunteer. Last year’s flood threat and a shrinking population base has taken it’s toll on the volunteer ranks. The nine current volunteer staff is a 10-year low, said Lovely. The department is equipped for up to 20 staff.
    Kates’ No. 1 priority is increasing his volunteer ranks.
     “We want to encourage volunteerism,” Kates said. “Some young people and anybody really, we want them to volunteer. And then as part of that, we want to keep our equipment and training up to date.”
    With the Highway 34 Bridge less than two years from completion, Kates said he’s heard rumors of a truck stop and possibly a hotel going up near the Highway 34-Interstate 29 interchange. Those commercial developments offer their own unique problems for the Pacific Junction fire department.
    “If they build a hotel that’s a couple stories tall, we’re going to need a ladder truck,” Kates said. “We have to keep up with the changes that are going on in our community and surrounding areas. We need to keep equipment updated to do that.”
    Kates said the department and the city are on the same page when it comes to changes that will likely have to take place over the next few years. Just how to pay for those improvements is still in the works. The department’s annual $189,000 budget is paid for via city funds, township dues and any revenue from the city’s ambulance service. Improvements to equipment and vehicles and on-going training is supplemented by grants.
    The city and fire department will continue to seek out alternative forms of funding. But a community effort is what will likely be necessary to meet the fire and rescue demands for Pacific Junction as they head into uncharted territory.
    “It’s going to take the whole community,” Kates said. “Grants, area businesses, everybody pulling together, that’s what’s going to get this done.”