File Photo – Antioch Fire Department Station 1 | Photo: Google Street View

Antioch’s fire chief says a tax levy increase is needed to fund critical repairs to Antioch fire stations and increase employee wages, which he says are comparable to fast-food workers.

Last month, the Antioch Fire Department’s board of trustees voted unanimously to raise the tax levy via referendum on the June 28 primary ballot.

“It’s not something we ‘want’ to do. It’s something we absolutely have to do,” Antioch Fire Chief Jon Cokefair said.

Cokefair said repairs are desperately needed at the department’s three fire stations. “Things are rough and it’s not going to get any better without fixing it.”

Station one, located at 835 Holbeck Drive in Antioch, is the worst and is in “extremely bad shape,” he said.

Sewage continues to back up in the basement, which is the site of consistent flooding, and the three-story-tall training tower that firefighters use is pulling away from the main building.

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Ratchet straps have been installed to keep the structure from pulling away further.

Cokefair said that several garage doors do not open because the doors need to be replaced, asbestos remains in the tiles and the building is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“The condition of the tower continues to deteriorate and critical repairs are needed,” Cokefair said. “Roof leaks are causing the tiles to fall and firefighters are occasionally wearing helmets when walking through the engine bay for their own safety. We don’t have the money to fix any of this.”

Cokefair also said that additional revenue is needed to increase salaries.

He said emergency medical technicians are currently making $15 an hour to start, while paramedics are earning a starting wage of $15.50 an hour.

“These salaries are so low we have a hard time retaining paramedics and EMTs,” Cokefair said. “It’s scary to think people suffering from a heart attack are being given CPR and paddled by a paramedic earning about the same as a crew member at Dunkin’ Donuts.”

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If the tax levy referendum is approved by voters and increases to 0.8%, the owner of a $200,000 home living in the fire district would see their taxes increase approximately $167 annually.

Cokefair said the tax levy would increase to the highest amount allowed by law, which is comparable to fire districts in Lake Villa, Lincolnshire-Riverwoods, Newport.

“If it fails this time, I’ll be right back out here in November asking for another levy increase,” he said.

“It’s reached the point where we need additional funding to stay in business if people want to make sure an ambulance with experienced paramedics arrive at their home to take them to the hospital during their medical emergency,” Cokefair added.