BARTONVILLE, Ill. (AP) — Volunteer firefighters in central Illinois are not leaning on the Peoria department enough, according to the city's mayor.

Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis said he blames that reluctance on four fire deaths in Bartonville and West Peoria over the past 11 years, the Journal Star reported.

Volunteers have a Mutual Aid Box Alarm System, or MABAS, which identifies which departments to call for backup under a variety of scenarios and in different regions. But a recent time-response analysis by the newspaper found that in each of the fatal fires, Peoria firefighters were not called to the scene. The calls instead went to other departments that are staffed by trained volunteers.

"This is not a new problem, but it's a very important problem that needs to be addressed," Ardis said. "I cannot believe that those responsible for responding have allowed these deaths and done nothing to address the appropriate response."

The fire departments in Peoria County have more than 100 MABAS cards on file with the emergency dispatch center, according to documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. Only a handful of cards included the Peoria Fire Department in the first call for reinforcements at the time of the Bartonville fire in July. MABAS cards in Bartonville were last updated in December 2007.

The Peoria Fire Department is often minutes away from residential calls outside the city and should be used as a primary backup, the mayor said.

"There is no excuse, and these (four) deaths were likely avoidable," Ardis said.

Bartonville Fire Chief Mike Cheatham and West Peoria Fire Chief Terry Schadt didn't immediately return calls for comment by the newspaper regarding Ardis' statement.


Information from: Journal Star,