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Bloomington council eases fire department hiring rules, updates license/permit policies

People taking part in a Bloomington Fire Department demonstration, dressed in safety equipment, and wearing oxygen tanks kneel, looking on at an enclosed fire as part of Fire Ops 101
Emily Bollinger
In this file photo, Bloomington Fire Department Ops 101 participants waited inside a flashover simulator. The department is easing hiring rules tied to paramedic licensing.

The Bloomington City Council on Monday OK'd the fire department’s plan to ease hiring rules tied to paramedic licensing.

Previously, the city mandated only licensed paramedics be considered for open firefighter positions. But that no longer is the case with Monday’s vote.

The Bloomington Fire Department still expects its first responders to be paramedics. But under the new policy, if a new firefighter doesn’t have the paramedic certification, BFD staff will train them.

The change builds a broader candidate pool in a climate where BFD, like many other U.S. fire departments, struggle to fill ranks. WGLT reported six months ago on these struggles, as seen in Bloomington and Normal.

Monday’s vote was 8-0. Ward 5’s Nick Becker was absent.

License and permit rules updated, including for alcohol

Also at the meeting, at the downtown Government Center, the council approved the first of two batches of proposals aimed at revamping the city’s licensing and permits.

“We’ll kind of give this program an overhaul,” said city clerk Leslie Yocum. At the council’s direction, Yocum’s staff spent the summer completing an audit of the policies.

The first grouping of proposals — which passed unanimously Monday — includes amending the city’s fee schedule relating to alcohol licenses and permits, and eliminating several archaic business license classes. Those changes take effect Nov. 5.

“For Chapter 6, our liquor provision, we’re removing three licenses,” outdoor, seasonal, and stadium, she said. Those three classes will be folded into other existing categories. Stadium, for example, now will be listed under entertainment.

A woman with strawberry-blonde hair, who is wearing glasses, sits at a table, speaking into a microphone at the downtown Government Center in Bloomington.
Emily Bollinger
Bloomington Clerk Leslie Yocum addresses the Bloomington City Council in this file photo

Regarding changes to penalties, hearings and fees, Yocum said the intention is to create a consistent approach. “We want to really look and make sure all the businesses across the community are being treated equally,” she said.

One notable change is a jump in fines for a business choosing to ignore a mayoral proclamation that the establishment needs to close for health or safety reasons. What was a $100 fine jumps to $1,000, she said.

Modernizing, and streamlining the process to make it more user-friendly is the goal, she said, adding 50 different licenses will be reorganized into about 30. The clerk’s staff also took a fine-toothed comb approach to reading the documents, and addressing outdated license names, as well as updating language to reflect gender-inclusive language, she said.

Ward 7’s Mollie Ward said the latter step may seem minor, but it goes a long way. "I think that says a lot about the character of our community," she said.

Tom Crumpler, who represents Ward 9, said he knew revamping these policies was a lot of work, but that he, too, appreciated the added clarity.

About $350,000 goes to golf course equipment, facilities

In a 7-1 vote, the council approved spending about $265,000 with TNT Golf Car and Motorsports on a new fleet of 60 golf carts. Ward voted against the purchase, citing environmental concerns.

“I think that it's a losing proposition to buy an entire fleet of gas-powered vehicles,” she said, seeking unsuccessfully to table the vote until the council’s November meeting.

In a separate vote, the council approved spending $60,000 to replace the clubhouse roof at The Den at Fox Creek Golf Course. Top Roofing will do the work.

In other business, the council approved:

  • An agreement to pay Helena Agri Enterprises up to $200,000 for chemicals used by the parks and recreation department.
  • Extending a fuel purchase agreement, by one year with Evergreen FS that supplies gasoline for the city’s vehicles and equipment. Bloomington will spend about half the $1.8 million budgeted for this expense for the contract’s first six months. Costs haven’t been determined for the rest of the year.
  • A one-year contract with Amereco for lead-based paint inspection services, on an as-needed plan. The city has the option to renew for three more annual contracts.
  • A three-year, $117,000 contract with Gallagher for risk management/insurance brokerage services The city also has options to renew. 
  • Accepting an Illinois Housing Development Authority Strong Communities Program grant.
  • Spending about $163,000 on a Bloomington Police Department power supply replacement project.
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Michele Steinbacher is a WGLT correspondent. She joined the staff in 2020.
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