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Fire and paramedic service stands out as a singular area of municipal government where lock-step coordination and cooperation between Bloomington and Normal can improve service, potentially saving lives and dollars.

If we had a “do-over,” wise leadership would likely create one fire department to serve all of Bloomington-Normal. Fire stations would be strategically located with a community-wide view, rather than one constrained by political borders with names like “Division Street.”

We wouldn’t have the current situation where no fire station exists north of Empire Street and east of Veterans Parkway, resulting in emergency response times in much of the northeast side that fall well short of national standards.

Both city governments are intent on remedying the situation, presenting opportunities.

Normal is in the early stages of a 10-year plan to replace its three stations, re-positioning them to serve a growing and changing community. Construction on Main Street is underway to replace the aging facility on Adelaide.

And within a few months, the town will pinpoint property east of Veterans where another new station would be built in about three years to replace the one on College. That will solve the “northeast” problem for Normal. About four years after that, the Raab Road station will be relocated to the west, improving response times to a different part of town.

Normal believes its plan greatly delays the need for a fourth station and the couple dozen firefighters it would take to staff it.

Bloomington meanwhile thinks it needs to add a northeast station to solve its own response time problem in that area. For a lot of murky reasons (two different firefighter union contracts among them), discussions between Normal and Bloomington about having a single, possibly larger northeast-side station never got off the ground.

So, Bloomington’s city council is deciding just where a new, northeast side fire station will land on its list of spending priorities.

To their credit, there already is good cooperation between the two fire departments. They assist and cover for one another on a regular basis. The likelihood is that Normal will have its new northeast station operating before Bloomington does, and if its personnel there can get to a fire or rescue call in northeast Bloomington minutes before Bloomington’s can, Normal’s trucks will roll.

Which brings us to a point already under discussion. Why not just cut to the chase and have Bloomington execute a long-term contract with Normal to respond to all northeast side calls? Making that decision sooner than later would allow Normal to bake those coverage needs into locating and designing its new east-of-Veterans station.

It’s an idea worthy of discussion in the current mayoral and council election campaigns.

The Cat news

News that Caterpillar won’t be building a new world headquarters in downtown Peoria, as it had announced less than two years ago, and will instead relocate its headquarters to Chicago is a bewildering blow to Peoria’s psyche. It also fans the embers of Bloomington-Normal insecurities about State Farm.

If there’s any surprise-within-the-surprise, it may be that Cat isn’t heading to a big city outside this sinking state, say to Atlanta or Dallas.

Playing at home

Adam Larson, the Twin City native saxophonist-composer who’s winning notice on the New York City jazz scene, will be back home in coming months.

He’ll appear with the U High and Metcalf jazz ensembles March 9 with a master class at Illinois Central College the next day. And his quartet will be in Normal July 9 for an appearance at the Connie Link Amphitheatre. In between is a four-night gig at Chicago’s Jazz Showcase in late March.

Vogel, of rural Bloomington, can be reached at vogelgraph@yahoo.com.

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