Rockford and Plainfield to merge fire response and training

Chief Dave Jones speaks at the Jan. 14 Council Meeting

Partnership to better serve residents

The City of Rockford Police Chief Dave Jones announced a historic partnership during the regular meeting of Rockford City Council on Monday, January 14. “We have two really strong departments of Public Safety who work so closely together,” he prefaced the announcement. “In an effort to better serve residents and conserve resources, the City of Rockford and Plainfield Township will begin a new mutual aid agreement on February 1. He made the announcement while Plainfield Township fire officials, including Assistant Chief Jeff Drake looked on from the audience.

Jones said Plainfield Township’s northernmost section is the farthest from the department’s fire stations, and closest to Rockford’s. “There are concerns that as the area continues to grow, response time may suffer,” he stated. He said meanwhile, Rockford has a shortfall in the evenings and weekends when there are no longer any on-duty fire fighters due to the structure of the combined Department of Safety created six years ago.

Jones said the department heads had “a meeting of the minds” over how to better work together and came up with the new aid agreement. He said in Plainfield Township’s northernmost sections, Rockford firefighters will automatically respond to calls for service, not wait for an aid assistance request as in the past. Likewise, Plainfield Fire Fighters will automatically respond to Rockford fire events.

“We have a model here where high risk, high intensity events don’t happen that often,” Jones said of Rockford. He said it would benefit Rockford fire fighters to respond to fire events more often.

Under this new agreement, Rockford Department of Public Safety will expand its service area to include Plainfield Township, responding to all calls for emergency medical services and structure fires. In return, the Plainfield Fire Department will respond to structure fires in Rockford, a press release about the agreement stated.

Plainfield Township will receive automatic aid from Rockford to EMS calls in order to improve response times. In 2018, there were nearly 90 EMS calls in the northeast corner of the township alone.

“Each of our communities had specific needs to improve our response models,” Jones said. “This agreement assures those are met. In addition to changes in responding to calls for service, the two departments will regularly train together to better integrate our first responders and to provide the best fire and medical services.”

Jones did note that there may not be a seamless transition, as in addition to the two governments of Rockford and Plainfield Township working together, a third government will be involved, Kent County, which provides dispatch service.  Jones said currently Rockford always has two cross trained police officers on duty, but that on nights and weekends, response can tend to be thin, given that people are not always home to respond. However, there has never been a problem in the six years of the model of a combined Department of Public Safety.

The mutual aid pact will provide benefits to residents of Rockford and Plainfield Township, allowing for faster response times of fire vehicles and rescue personnel. The departments will also participate in combined training session, both online and in person. Jones said trust is a huge component of fire fighting and it is crucial to have both extensive knowledge and trust in fellow fire fighters’ skills abilities.

“This is very exciting for our departments and fire fighters,” said Plainfield Fire Chief Steve McKeller. “Partnering with Rockford will allow our staff to provide faster fire and medical services to keep our communities safer.”

“We hope this initial partnership will open the doors for future collaboration, including the possible expansion of this model into other service areas.”

Jones told council Rockford has an average of one fire a year. In his sixteen years here at Rockford there have only been five or six fires that were really, really big burns. Mayor Cheryl Scales said she is thrilled to see this model of government cooperation.