Illinois Fire Service Institute to receive $3.8 million for budget

By Aaron Navarro

As services and programs across Illinois remain in fiscal uncertainty due to the ongoing state budget standoff, one University organization will be able to once again offer the breadth of its full services.

The Illinois Fire Service Institute, IFSI, is receiving just over $3.8 million in funding from the state Fire Prevention Fund.

The amount is an annual allocation for the IFSI, as the Fire Prevention Fund accounts for 27 percent of the institute’s funding.

The IFSI is the mandated state fire academy headquartered in Champaign, which provides classes and firefighting training all across the state.

Governor Bruce Rauner signed the piecemeal spending bill, SB2039, on the same day that the Illinois State Senate approved it on Dec. 7. The bill allocates money from the Fire Prevention Fund to the Board of Trustees at the University.

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Though the $3.8 million goes through the University first, the bill earmarked the funds specifically for IFSI, said Deputy Director James Keiken.

“We are part of the University, we just don’t get funding. When we have an agreement such as this bill that gets approved, it really goes through the University and then to us,” Keiken said.

The money is for “paying the Institute’s expenses, and providing the facilities and structures incident thereto, including payment to the University for personal services and related costs incurred,” according to the bill.

More specifically, the $3.8 million serves as the IFSI 2015-2016 school year budget for day-to-day operations and bills as well as its “cornerstone” program which offers courses of basic firefighting skills to various small fire districts and volunteers, free of charge to the department.

The cornerstone program takes about 2.5 percent of the budget or $600,000 dollars. However, due to budgetary problems, the program has not ran since October, said IFSI Deputy Director James Keiken.

“We had to suspend courses in October, November and December. Those funds are important for firefighters and volunteers to get training all the time. It definitely has an impact when it isn’t available,” said Keiken.

In addition, in the second quarter of the fiscal year the institute didn’t receive funding in time, causing the University to help cover some of IFSI’s operational costs.

“The amount of money we get is dependent on the previous year’s Fire Protection Fund collection, and that money wasn’t available to us in time,” Keiken said. “We are paying (the University) back once we get that check of course.”

The bill comes at a time of fiscal limbo for Illinois, with an official 2016 fiscal budget yet to be decided.

Despite having a concrete number set for their allocated budget, the IFSI still has yet to receive the check said Keiken.

“We’re always concerned about the budget, to be honest. Even though the money has been published, we haven’t gotten the funds yet, it hasn’t been transferred. We’re still waiting,” Keiken said. “But we know it has been approved, and we know it’s coming.”

Though the IFSI does find other funding through grants and course prices, Keiken always notes that more funding could always help.

“Is it a good amount of money? Absolutely. We definitely run within our budget, but we don’t have tons of cash in the bank,” Keiken said. “Could we use more? Yes, we always have demand for classes that we run out of funding for. These are classes where people can go back to their communities and fight fires and save lives. If we didn’t have the funding we had, people wouldn’t be able to operate safely on a daily basis.”

In addition to the $3.8 million IFSI allocation, the bill frees up $3.1 billion to local governments across Illinois for a variety of uses such as local road repairs, winter maintenance and lottery prizes over $600.