This fall, the city councils of Sterling and Rock Falls met in a rare joint session to give final approval to a merger of their two fire departments.
Gary Cook is the Chief of the new Twin City Joint Fire Command. He says the merger was the logical end result of an organic process, one that’s been going on for some time.
“Our automatic aid agreement was signed 15 years ago. So we had since worked forward from that point. We’re polishing what we’d already been doing. We’re just taking to another level and making it better.”
The two cities are keeping their fire houses and their fire companies. But, Cook says, the merger will allow for a more efficient allocation of resources, including manpower, as incidents arise across the area.
Twin City Joint Fire Command Deputy Chief Mike Dettman says as firefighters respond to calls on both sides of the river, an important step will be to provide an opportunity for them to learn more about responding to areas beyond their Sterling or Rock Falls beat:
"I'm going to pass onto our company officers 'hey, if they come over, let them keep coming in and let them take a look and see what the layout is of this nursing home or facility. If you're not familiar with where the alarm panel is or where the play-up for the sprinkler system is and so forth, it can be with detrimental to the service of the public."
Cook says the goal of all this is quite simple: to improve service, and to improve safety.
“Not so much for us but for the community. They’re why we’re here to begin with.”
And as Cook says, when your house is burning down, you don’t care what the decal on the uniform says.
Like the fire department, Sterling and Rock Falls schools are a vital part of the community. So would they consider a merger? Superintendents from Sterling and Rock Falls say the people they serve have indicated no interest in doing so. But that doesn’t stop them from working together.
Rock Falls High School Superintendent Ron McCord says there are areas where the districts find collaboration mutually beneficial, such as shared academic training.
“We also have our bi-county which is our special ed cooperative. We have WACC which is a vocational cooperative that Rock Falls and Sterling High School are involved in.”
McCord says Sterling and Rock Falls high schools also have character building programs that mirror each other.
Sterling Public Schools Superintendent Tad Everett says he considers his colleagues from Rock Falls friends, and says they get together regularly to chew over issues as they try to provide the best education to their students. Everett says they also collaborate on ways to serve needy students on both sides of the river, for example through United Way programs.
“We do feed the children program during the summer when kids do not have meals that are supplied, that we’ve done in both our communities and has been very successful, and another united way program is back to school supplies.“
A center where youth from the entire region can come together for activities outside of school has been proposed. Both Everett and McCord say they expect to be involved in that. They also say they will continue to look at other places where they and their peers can work together, for the benefit of their students, their cities, and the whole community.