Champaign and Urbana revise fire response jurisdictions

By Claire Textor

After 18 years, the Urbana Fire Department will no longer respond to incidents on private properties in Champaign.

On March 1, the Champaign City Council voted unanimously to change the interpretation of an agreement between the Urbana and Champaign fire departments.

“There were different interpretations about the original agreement,” said Mayor of Champaign Deborah Feinen.

The old terms allowed the Urbana department to respond to 196 private properties outside of their city limits because, at the time, it was more beneficial to the community.

When the University’s fire department disbanded in the 1990s, they appointed Urbana to consolidate the private properties in the campus zone that are now up for discussion.

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A discussion about the agreement was spurred when Brian Nightlinger, chief of the Urbana Fire Department, sent a proposal to the Champaign City Council asking to increase Urbana’s coverage. The proposal was evaluated using comprehensive methods that did not exist at the time of the agreement.

“Over the course of 18 years, fire technology has changed, EMS delivery has become more comprehensive, (Geographic Information Systems) software now exists and the footprint of the campus has changed,” said Gary Ludwig, chief of the Champaign Fire Department (CFD).

They found the Champaign properties being serviced by Urbana would be better dealt with by the CFD.

“It was a matter of response capabilities and we are better positioned to serve those properties,” Ludwig said. The CFD is a larger operation and now has technology that didn’t exist two decades ago. They now have the resources to aid the properties that were originally being serviced by Urbana.

The change in jurisdiction will only affect the private properties around the University. The campus will still be serviced by vehicles in the closest proximity to the emergency, regardless of by which city they are owned.

“With Champaign City Council’s action, private properties now will get a different response than U of I properties,” Nightlinger said. “If there’s two buildings sitting next to each other and the U of I owns the property, it will get the closest unit response. If it’s a privately owned building, it will get a Champaign city response.”

This change will reduce costs for the Urbana department because they will be running fewer calls and paying fewer fees to their dispatcher, METCAD.

“It’s good government to go back and review policies and look to see if we can do things better,” Ludwig said. “I see this as a win-win.”

The two departments will continue to aid each other on active fires and work together for the benefit of the community at large.

“Our two departments have been working very well together and will continue to work together in a cohesive manner,” Feinen said.

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