COPENHAGEN — It was standing room only in the small meeting room at the village offices with an almost even split between those for and against the most controversial topic before the board: a plea by fire department personnel to reinstate the Cubs drill team.
A motion proposed by former Mayor Scott Alexander was passed by the trustees in September to end the drill team, also known as the firematics team, due to the high cost of workers’ compensation cases resulting from past injuries.
At that time, fire department leadership said that wouldn’t be the last word on the topic, and at Thursday’s village board meeting, Fire Chief Jim Henry put the matter back on the table with a letter to the board.
The letter gave an historic overview of the team’s 80-plus-year history, acknowledged the challenges presented by insurance costs and asked, as a compromise, to be able to run some less-risky events like the three-man ladder, efficiency and buckets and B-truck events. The compromise proposal would allow for the two C-truck events only at the state tournament.
After some confusion about what the workers’ comp for the team would cost relating to the two outstanding claims, Trustee Kim Vogt said, “It’s not as easy as saying it’s this or that, but it’s not going to be a low number for the next three years.”
Options like asking other villages or towns in the fire protection area to contribute to the cost were brought up by the fire team, but they had all been discussed during consideration the previous year, according to Ms. Vogt.
The firefighters’ pleas to save their drill team didn’t win over village residents at the meeting.
“Firematics is not working. How does that fall under workers’ comp?” asked Shareef Stokely. When in answer to another of his questions he was told the drill team was not required by the state for fire departments, Mr. Stokely fired back, “Then why are we doing this? Why are we having this conversation if it’s not required by law?”
Another attendee added that the drills can’t be classified as training because they are not done with proper equipment.
Trustee Gerald Snyder was met with applause when he said, “I’m a 52-year member of the fire department and I raced for 18 years. I abstained from voting because of my experience. I had a lot of fun with it but I got on this board to protect everybody that pays taxes, not just the fire department.”
When new Mayor Kenneth Clark asked for a motion to re-establish the firematics team, it was met with silence.
The drill team remains disbanded.
”We have a lot of respect for the fire department. They are the backbone of the village. When the snow is blowing and someone is upside down in the ditch, they’re there,” the mayor said.
Chief Jim Henry said, “I just figured it was a chance I had to take. I’m a 45-year member of the fire department and I’ve drilled for all of those years.”
He said his last hope to revive the team now is to find a way to break with the county’s workers’ comp insurance so the team can buy its own policy.