By Bob Balgemann
POPLAR GROVE – Public meetings will be held Thursday, March 10 and Sunday, March 13 to provide information on the referendum that will decide if North Boone Fire Protection District III provides ambulance service in Caledonia and Poplar Grove townships.
Thursday’s meeting, sponsored by Friends of North Boone Fire Protection District III, will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the recreation building at Candlewick Lake. The Sunday meeting, hosted by Capron Rescue Squad (CRS), also in the Candlewick Lake Recreation building, will begin at noon.
CRS and District III are on opposite sides of the referendum, which will be part of the presidential preference election ballot on Tuesday, March 15.
District III currently provides fire service in the aforementioned townships and part of the village of Timberlane, totaling about 55 square miles. It is asking for a tax increase so it also can provide ambulance service in its fire protection district, which already is served by CRS.
If the referendum passes, homeowners would continue paying property tax for the CRS. They also would start paying a new tax for the District III ambulance service. For someone with a $100,000 house, the additional tax would be $16.67 a year.
Attorney’s recommendation
District III currently is not “officially recognized” by the 9-1-1 emergency dispatching center in Belvidere, said Heath Morrall, a member of the North Boone Fire Protection District III Board of Trustees. He said the district’s attorney reported the only way it could start receiving calls was by being “a tax-collecting body,” hence, the need for a referendum.
Right now the ambulance, which District III bought a couple of years ago, accompanies fire trucks on calls in case one of the firefighters should need medical assistance.
Officials of District III believe another ambulance would help improve response time. If the referendum passes, District III’s ambulance would be the first dispatched to calls within the boundaries of its fire protection district, Morrall said.
Owen Costanza, president of the CRS District Board of Trustees, disagrees. He said Capron Rescue ambulances average on-scene arrivals in eight minutes, five seconds. That’s the elapsed time from the call being dispatched to the ambulance reaching the scene of the emergency.
In responding to another District III concern, he said CRS ambulances handle the vast number of calls to which they are dispatched. Of the 780 calls received by CRS in 2015, he said it requested back-up eight times. Such assistance typically comes from Belvidere (south), Harvard (east) and Harlem-Roscoe (north and west).
Morrall said District III officials hope to have a mutual aid agreement with CRS, so ambulances from both services would back each other up when necessary.
Another lawyer’s opinion
Attorney Frank Nagorka, who advises CRS on emergency medical services issues, said in a telephone interview that in his opinion, passage of the referendum does not mean District III will be the primary ambulance service in the fire protection district.
First, he said the Boone County 9-1-1 Board would have to approve District III as a service provider.
Second, District III would have to go through its resource hospital, which would have to obtain approval from the Illinois Department of Public Health.
“Just because they’re (District III) given money, it still has to be determined that this (change) makes sense,” he said. “They have to show the existing (ambulance) service (CRS) isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do.”
In a letter to Costanza, dated Feb. 26, he stated, in part, “Having reviewed the materials that you (Costanza) provided for my review, it is my opinion that there has been no showing that the EMS services are inadequate, thus there has been no condition precedent for the imposition of any tax increase for additional ambulance services.”
Nagorka is a practicing paramedic who has defended 9-1-1 for the city of Chicago.
Curt Newport, a member of the 9-1-1 board, said he hoped the board would not be involved in determining where calls are sent. He said he hoped state statutes would be clear enough to deal with that issue.
Beyond that, he said the 9-1-1 board’s purpose is to administer funds received from the telephone surcharge for the emergency dispatch center at the public safety building.
Wording in the referendum does not address that question.
It reads: “Shall the North Boone Fire Protection District 3, Boone County, Illinois, be authorized to levy a new tax for ambulance purposes and have an additional tax of .05 percent of the equalized assessed value of the taxable property therein extended for such purposes?”
Planning for the future
Capron Rescue officials point out they already have laid the foundation that will take the district forward for the next 20 years.
In 2015, the district built a new station on the south side of Candlewick Lake, off Caledonia Road, the community where many of its calls originate. That station is staffed 24 hours a day.
Before that CRS remodeled a two-story farmhouse on the west side of Poplar Grove Road, north of Illinois 173 and south of Quail Trap Road, which is occupied 24/7, and the station in downtown Capron, where the service originated in 1957, also has been remodeled and includes sleeping quarters.

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