Latest Amazon Review: ‘Damn Fine Story’

Jimmy's NephewJimmy’s Nephew is my newest Rick Crane Noir, but Cooper’s Daughter, the first book in the series, continues to find fans and garner great reviews.

“Damn Fine Story” is the headline on the latest 5-star review of my first book from Stay Thirsty Publishing.

This is Noir at it’s best.

The twisted plots and turns took you along nicely.

I held my breath more than once.

Always nice to hear when you have another fan.

The Long, Hard Road to Berlin

Here is my latest in The Wall Street Journal.

By Mark Yost

New Orleans

Seventy years ago, much of the U.S. was anticipating the end to the war in Europe. The Allies had liberated Paris and pushed back the Nazis’ last-gasp effort at the Battle of the Bulge. In January 1945, the Allies were on their way into Germany in force.

But how we got there—from North Africa through Sicily and other parts of Italy to the beaches of Normandy—is a story worth telling, and it is told well in the newest exhibit to open at the National World War II Museum, “Road to Berlin: European Theater Galleries.”

BerlinThe permanent exhibit, housed in the brand-new Campaigns of Courage pavilion, opens with some important historical background. An interactive map and accompanying narration remind visitors of the task we faced in Europe. There is archival footage of Hitler’s rise to power and a summation of his territorial conquests up to 1942, when the Americans made their first foray into Nazi territory—not into heavily fortified Europe, but North Africa. One factoid that sticks out: The German military machine was at its apex in 1942, with some nine million men in uniform.

Setting the tone for the entire exhibit, the North Africa section, titled “Desert War,” doesn’t shirk from telling visitors just how unprepared America was for war against the battle-hardened Germans. Maps, dioramas, diary entries and informative plaques explain that the North African landings were pretty much a disaster in terms of coordinating ships, men and machinery and landing them effectively on the beaches. But they also illustrate how smart Gen. Dwight Eisenhower was in resisting political and alliance pressure to assault on Fortress Europe in the early stages of the war.

The museum also does much to explain that it was really America’s industrial might—its ability to mass produce tanks, planes and other armaments—as much as its eventual military prowess that defeated the Nazis. And the weapons on display are placed in their historical and tactical context. For instance, we learn from the text accompanying a desert diorama that it was the longer range of the M2A1 105 mm howitzer compared with the German 88 mm guns that made it so effective—able to inflict damage on the seasoned Germans before they got to our inexperienced troops.

The exhibit tries to personalize the war by giving each visitor the dog tag—an electronic keycard, really—of a soldier. You learn about him at the start—where he is from, when he enlisted, and why. That is one of the ways the museum has made available its vast archives of diaries, letters and oral histories. I was assigned Martin Perrett, a native of New Orleans who wanted to enlist in the Navy but was instead sent to the Coast Guard, where he learned to drive the Higgins landing boats that were made here in the Crescent City. Throughout the exhibit, there are kiosks where you check in with your soldier, sailor or airman, learning what he was doing during the landings in Sicily, the Italian mainland and on D-Day.

Perrett, I learned, spent most of his time in Scotland and England, mastering his skills as a Higgins boat coxswain, preparing for Normandy. After some post-D-Day landings in southern Europe, his unit was transferred to the Pacific to ferry Marines to the beaches of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, which the museum reminds us was a bigger amphibious landing than Normandy.

There are also personal stories told throughout the exhibit in a variety of mediums—such as a May 1943 Life magazine cover story, “War Hits Red Oak,” about a small town in Iowa that, like small towns everywhere, was starting to get telegrams of casualties from the North Africa campaign that began in November 1942.

The next gallery focuses on the Italian campaigns, an often-forgotten part of World War II history. This section is aptly named “A Long, Bloody Slog,” reminding visitors with maps, photographs, plaques and archival footage that it took some 20 months to fully take the Italian mainland and cost both sides dearly—the Allies, 300,000 men; the Germans, 400,000. Told well here is the story of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, made up of Nisei—Japanese-Americans whose families were interred back home while they fought valiantly to liberate Europe.

Between the Italy and D-Day galleries is a replica of an Air Force barracks made of corrugated metal. Behind a ragged bomb hole in the roof is a sky-blue screen that shows various aircraft flying overhead; on the walls are glass display cases with aircrew uniforms hanging up. In the middle is a large, interactive briefing table that re-creates bombing runs, such as the costly August 1943 Allied raid on the German ball-bearing plant at Schweinfurt that cost the Allies 60 bombers lost, as many more heavily damaged, and more than 500 crewmen shot down and either taken prisoner or listed as missing in action. Among the personal stories told here is that of a B-17 flight engineer who had his foot nearly blown off by flak. The plane’s rotating ball turrets required two feet to operate; we’re told he had to use his good foot to lift his mangled foot into the stirrup so he could continue fending off German fighter planes.

If there is anything to criticize here, it is near the end in the gallery devoted to the final days of the Nazi regime. Maps and photos chronicle the last battles for Cologne (March 1945) and the crossing of the Elbe River near Berlin (April 1945). In the background, a well-done film documents the atrocities that the Allies found as they liberated the Jewish concentration camps. It notes that even a battle-hardened, tough-as-nails soldier like Patton couldn’t complete his tour of Ohrdruf. Nearby and completely out of place is a case with official state china from the Third Reich, and silverware engraved with Hitler’s initials. It adds nothing to the story of the Road to Berlin.

But that is just a small faux pas in an exhibit that is thorough and unflinching in telling how America got from the beaches of North Africa to the doorstep of Germany, some 70 years ago.

Talking Firefighting and Funding on WGN Radio Tonight

I will be on WGN Radio (720 AM) tonight at 10 p.m. CDT talking about my piece in the Stay Thirsty magazine about Antioch (IL) Fire and the challenges they face since a resolution to fund EMS service in the northern Illinois town was defeated.

Here’s the piece I wrote:

If there was a state symbolic of the anti-government wave that swept through the country in the 2014 mid-term elections, it was Illinois. Once considered a staunchly blue state that could be counted on to reliably elect Democrats year after year, the (former) Land of Lincoln voted to put a Republican in the statehouse.

And not just any Republican.

AntiochGovernor-elect Bruce Rauner is a multi-millionaire business owner who campaigned on a platform of widespread tax reform to lure businesses back to the state, radically reform and restructure public-employee pensions that are in the red to the tune of $100 billion, and do whatever he could to prevent the passage of a higher minimum wage. The fact that he beat Chicago machine politician Pat Quinn by more than 5 points was the exclamation point to the change in voter sentiment.

The “throw the bums out” voter attitude that put Rauner in office also propelled conservatives to victories across the country, including taking back the U.S. Senate. Pundits called it a “wave election.”

But with every tidal wave, there are innocent bystanders. One group being unfairly swamped in all of this is firefighters. You know, the guys who show up when you forget to clean the lint in your dryer for 18 months. Their quick response and experience is the reason the fire doesn’t spread from your ductwork to the rest of your house. They’re also the guys who show up unexpectedly over the holidays and revive Uncle Ernie, who between his third cocktail and fourth trip to the snack tray had a massive coronary in your living room.

When they’re not showing up in your most dire hour of need, fire departments across the country are literally fighting for their financial lives. They’re struggling for money to replace worn out equipment or buy new lifesaving heart monitors; they’re also fighting city councils over staffing levels – some cities want to ignore industry and government recommended standards and only have three firefighters on a truck or engine, and staff ambulances with just one paramedic who has advanced training such as the ability to read ECGs in the field and deliver drugs that can mean the difference between Uncle Ernie living or dying.

The one community that perhaps best symbolizes this nexus of anti-government voter sentiment and the good Samaritans who are caught in the middle of it all is Antioch, Illinois. Literally situated on the Illinois-Wisconsin border, about an hour north and slightly west of Chicago, Antioch has a bit of a storied fire history.

There are actually two Antiochs. There is the village, and then there is the township. For decades, both Antiochs – which comprise about eight square miles of a small downtown surrounded by rolling hills, lakes and channels – was protected by a mostly volunteer fire department. For ambulance service, the community relied on the private Antioch Rescue Squad. The rescue squad had an endowment that was left by a wealthy benefactor, but for the most part both groups relied on the usual funding – a small tax abatement (that barely covered operating expenses) that was heavily subsidized by donations, chicken barbecues and pancake breakfasts.

“For the longest time, this was a Norman Rockwell community of about 5,000,” said Deputy Chief Chris Lienhardt, who has been on the department for 30 years. “But over the past decade or so, our population has tripled and the number of people who could volunteer on the fire department has shrunk.”

And for decades, the rescue squad and the volunteer fire department had a “gentlemen’s agreement,” to help out each other, said Chief John Nixon. The fire department – which had volunteers who were Emergency Medical Technicians – would respond to rescue squad calls when they needed extra help, and the rescue squad would come to Antioch fire calls, should anyone be injured and need medical care.

“When I was a kid, I split my finger wide open,” Lienhardt said. “I didn’t call 9-1-1 or go to the ER. I walked up the block to Doug Lang’s house. He was on the rescue squad, patched up my finger, and sent me on my way. That’s how this town was.”

That all started to change in 2013 when the Antioch Rescue Squad was sued by a former employee for sexual harassment. Long story short, the village and township both ceased doing business with the rescue squad, so the fire department stepped in to provide EMS service to the community.

Historically, the fire department had been an all-volunteer corps. But over the past five years it had evolved to include a 24-hour paid crew at one station, followed by another crew at a second station. Many of those paid crew members were full-time firefighters at other departments, working second jobs. So when Antioch Rescue folded, many of the Antioch volunteers and paid firefighters were already certified paramedics.

Within nine days of Antioch ending its relationship with the rescue squad, the fire department had three crews with nine people, Lienhardt said.

Today, the Antioch Fire Department has four used ambulances with full crews, providing EMS service to a community that’s at least 20-30 minutes away from any other Advanced Life Support ambulance service.

“We took over EMS with no funding sources,” Chief Nixon said. “The village set aside some of its reserves for operation of an ALS ambulance, but without a sustainable funding mechanism, we couldn’t keep it going.”

Adding to Antioch’s budget problems, the demise of Antioch Rescue came in the middle of the budget cycle, and at a time when property tax revenues had fallen along with real estate values.

Fast-forward a few months to the 2014 mid-term elections. The fire department put together a series of town hall meetings to explain to residents in both the village and the township why they were asking to raise property tax levies. They volunteered to canvas neighborhoods, passing out fliers and talking with anyone who had questions about the proposed levy.

In the meantime, in May 2014, the Antioch Rescue Squad, which had been temporarily suspended by the city and township, was terminated permanently. In what can only be seen as an act of spite, the rescue squad donated all of its equipment to departments outside of Antioch.

“We needed to establish a permanent funding mechanism,” Chief Nixon said. “The best way to do that was to create a levy to provide ALS ambulances funded off real estate property taxes.”

So what did the Antioch Fire Department ask for, you’re wondering?

“We asked for one quarter of one percent,” Chief Nixon said.

In other words, 0.25%.

“On a residence valued at $100,000, it would mean the homeowner would pay $83 a year,” Deputy Chief Lienhardt said.

According to the 2010 census, the median value of a home in Antioch is just over $200,000, up from about $160,000 in 2000, but down significantly from 2007-08.

“We picked the absolute hardest time to attempt this real estate levy,” Chief Nixon admits. “There hadn’t been a request [for a property tax increase] in Lake County in five years.”

You know where this is going.

Out of about 4,000 voters, the measure failed by 214 votes in the village and 650 votes in the township.

“Many people didn’t understand why this was suddenly being thrust upon them,” Chief Nixon said. “But in the end, people simply didn’t want to pay for any new taxes.”

And here’s the kicker: If your house in Antioch is worth, say, $200,000, you’d pay about $170 a year for ambulance service that you may or may not need. But without the referendum, Antioch Fire is now billing $1,500, the standard rate. Thanks to Medicaid and private insurance rules, the fire department is only collecting about 40% of what they’re billing. Adding to the fire department’s budget woes, a survey of the area found that some 37% of residents don’t have insurance of any kind that would cover ambulance trips.

So where does all this leave the Antioch Fire Department, which currently responds to about 2,000 calls a year in both the village and township?

“We will make a second attempt at referendum in April 2015,” Chief Nixon said. “The fire district is out of money and has no reserves. We’ve already had to close one fire station and reduce on-duty staffing from 11 to 8.”

And if the April 2015 referendum fails?

“There’s a strong possibility that there won’t be any ambulance service in Antioch, and residents will have to rely on private EMS,” Deputy Chief Lienhardt said.

In the meantime, Antioch Fire – ever the good guys, mostly volunteers – will continue to run EMS calls at their own expense (and to the detriment of their overall fire budget) until April 2015.

“We’re not a wealthy department,” said Deputy Chief Lienhardt, who has an annual training budget of just $18,000 and 20-year-old equipment that’s now 25 years old, with no hope of replacement anytime soon with the budget strain of the new, unfunded EMS responsibilities.

But the taxpayers got what they wanted: No new taxes.

The big question is: Can they live with that decision – both literally and figuratively?

Mark Yost is a frequent contributor to The Wall St. Journal and is the author of Cooper’s Daughter and Jimmy’s Nephew

Talking Firefighting and Funding on WGN Radio This Morning

I will be on WGN Radio (720 AM) this morning at 10 a.m. CDT talking about my piece in the Stay Thirsty magazine about Antioch (IL) Fire and the challenges they face since a resolution to fund EMS service in the northern Illinois town was defeated.

Here’s the piece I wrote:

If there was a state symbolic of the anti-government wave that swept through the country in the 2014 mid-term elections, it was Illinois. Once considered a staunchly blue state that could be counted on to reliably elect Democrats year after year, the (former) Land of Lincoln voted to put a Republican in the statehouse.

And not just any Republican.

AntiochGovernor-elect Bruce Rauner is a multi-millionaire business owner who campaigned on a platform of widespread tax reform to lure businesses back to the state, radically reform and restructure public-employee pensions that are in the red to the tune of $100 billion, and do whatever he could to prevent the passage of a higher minimum wage. The fact that he beat Chicago machine politician Pat Quinn by more than 5 points was the exclamation point to the change in voter sentiment.

The “throw the bums out” voter attitude that put Rauner in office also propelled conservatives to victories across the country, including taking back the U.S. Senate. Pundits called it a “wave election.”

But with every tidal wave, there are innocent bystanders. One group being unfairly swamped in all of this is firefighters. You know, the guys who show up when you forget to clean the lint in your dryer for 18 months. Their quick response and experience is the reason the fire doesn’t spread from your ductwork to the rest of your house. They’re also the guys who show up unexpectedly over the holidays and revive Uncle Ernie, who between his third cocktail and fourth trip to the snack tray had a massive coronary in your living room.

When they’re not showing up in your most dire hour of need, fire departments across the country are literally fighting for their financial lives. They’re struggling for money to replace worn out equipment or buy new lifesaving heart monitors; they’re also fighting city councils over staffing levels – some cities want to ignore industry and government recommended standards and only have three firefighters on a truck or engine, and staff ambulances with just one paramedic who has advanced training such as the ability to read ECGs in the field and deliver drugs that can mean the difference between Uncle Ernie living or dying.

The one community that perhaps best symbolizes this nexus of anti-government voter sentiment and the good Samaritans who are caught in the middle of it all is Antioch, Illinois. Literally situated on the Illinois-Wisconsin border, about an hour north and slightly west of Chicago, Antioch has a bit of a storied fire history.

There are actually two Antiochs. There is the village, and then there is the township. For decades, both Antiochs – which comprise about eight square miles of a small downtown surrounded by rolling hills, lakes and channels – was protected by a mostly volunteer fire department. For ambulance service, the community relied on the private Antioch Rescue Squad. The rescue squad had an endowment that was left by a wealthy benefactor, but for the most part both groups relied on the usual funding – a small tax abatement (that barely covered operating expenses) that was heavily subsidized by donations, chicken barbecues and pancake breakfasts.

“For the longest time, this was a Norman Rockwell community of about 5,000,” said Deputy Chief Chris Lienhardt, who has been on the department for 30 years. “But over the past decade or so, our population has tripled and the number of people who could volunteer on the fire department has shrunk.”

And for decades, the rescue squad and the volunteer fire department had a “gentlemen’s agreement,” to help out each other, said Chief John Nixon. The fire department – which had volunteers who were Emergency Medical Technicians – would respond to rescue squad calls when they needed extra help, and the rescue squad would come to Antioch fire calls, should anyone be injured and need medical care.

“When I was a kid, I split my finger wide open,” Lienhardt said. “I didn’t call 9-1-1 or go to the ER. I walked up the block to Doug Lang’s house. He was on the rescue squad, patched up my finger, and sent me on my way. That’s how this town was.”

That all started to change in 2013 when the Antioch Rescue Squad was sued by a former employee for sexual harassment. Long story short, the village and township both ceased doing business with the rescue squad, so the fire department stepped in to provide EMS service to the community.

Historically, the fire department had been an all-volunteer corps. But over the past five years it had evolved to include a 24-hour paid crew at one station, followed by another crew at a second station. Many of those paid crew members were full-time firefighters at other departments, working second jobs. So when Antioch Rescue folded, many of the Antioch volunteers and paid firefighters were already certified paramedics.

Within nine days of Antioch ending its relationship with the rescue squad, the fire department had three crews with nine people, Lienhardt said.

Today, the Antioch Fire Department has four used ambulances with full crews, providing EMS service to a community that’s at least 20-30 minutes away from any other Advanced Life Support ambulance service.

“We took over EMS with no funding sources,” Chief Nixon said. “The village set aside some of its reserves for operation of an ALS ambulance, but without a sustainable funding mechanism, we couldn’t keep it going.”

Adding to Antioch’s budget problems, the demise of Antioch Rescue came in the middle of the budget cycle, and at a time when property tax revenues had fallen along with real estate values.

Fast-forward a few months to the 2014 mid-term elections. The fire department put together a series of town hall meetings to explain to residents in both the village and the township why they were asking to raise property tax levies. They volunteered to canvas neighborhoods, passing out fliers and talking with anyone who had questions about the proposed levy.

In the meantime, in May 2014, the Antioch Rescue Squad, which had been temporarily suspended by the city and township, was terminated permanently. In what can only be seen as an act of spite, the rescue squad donated all of its equipment to departments outside of Antioch.

“We needed to establish a permanent funding mechanism,” Chief Nixon said. “The best way to do that was to create a levy to provide ALS ambulances funded off real estate property taxes.”

So what did the Antioch Fire Department ask for, you’re wondering?

“We asked for one quarter of one percent,” Chief Nixon said.

In other words, 0.25%.

“On a residence valued at $100,000, it would mean the homeowner would pay $83 a year,” Deputy Chief Lienhardt said.

According to the 2010 census, the median value of a home in Antioch is just over $200,000, up from about $160,000 in 2000, but down significantly from 2007-08.

“We picked the absolute hardest time to attempt this real estate levy,” Chief Nixon admits. “There hadn’t been a request [for a property tax increase] in Lake County in five years.”

You know where this is going.

Out of about 4,000 voters, the measure failed by 214 votes in the village and 650 votes in the township.

“Many people didn’t understand why this was suddenly being thrust upon them,” Chief Nixon said. “But in the end, people simply didn’t want to pay for any new taxes.”

And here’s the kicker: If your house in Antioch is worth, say, $200,000, you’d pay about $170 a year for ambulance service that you may or may not need. But without the referendum, Antioch Fire is now billing $1,500, the standard rate. Thanks to Medicaid and private insurance rules, the fire department is only collecting about 40% of what they’re billing. Adding to the fire department’s budget woes, a survey of the area found that some 37% of residents don’t have insurance of any kind that would cover ambulance trips.

So where does all this leave the Antioch Fire Department, which currently responds to about 2,000 calls a year in both the village and township?

“We will make a second attempt at referendum in April 2015,” Chief Nixon said. “The fire district is out of money and has no reserves. We’ve already had to close one fire station and reduce on-duty staffing from 11 to 8.”

And if the April 2015 referendum fails?

“There’s a strong possibility that there won’t be any ambulance service in Antioch, and residents will have to rely on private EMS,” Deputy Chief Lienhardt said.

In the meantime, Antioch Fire – ever the good guys, mostly volunteers – will continue to run EMS calls at their own expense (and to the detriment of their overall fire budget) until April 2015.

“We’re not a wealthy department,” said Deputy Chief Lienhardt, who has an annual training budget of just $18,000 and 20-year-old equipment that’s now 25 years old, with no hope of replacement anytime soon with the budget strain of the new, unfunded EMS responsibilities.

But the taxpayers got what they wanted: No new taxes.

The big question is: Can they live with that decision – both literally and figuratively?

Mark Yost is a frequent contributor to The Wall St. Journal and is the author of Cooper’s Daughter and Jimmy’s Nephew

One Town’s Fire-Rescue Crisis

I’m continuing my theme of writing about issues facing the fire service over at the Stay Thirsty e-magazine.

In the Fall 2014 edition, I wrote about the Los Angeles County Fire Museum. In Winter 2015, I look at the issues facing one small town in Illinois — and many cities big and small across the country. Here’s my piece, which is garnering a lot of comments, both good and bad.

AntiochIf there was a state symbolic of the anti-government wave that swept through the country in the 2014 mid-term elections, it was Illinois. Once considered a staunchly blue state that could be counted on to reliably elect Democrats year after year, the (former) Land of Lincoln voted to put a Republican in the statehouse.

And not just any Republican.

Governor-elect Bruce Rauner is a multi-millionaire business owner who campaigned on a platform of widespread tax reform to lure businesses back to the state, radically reform and restructure public-employee pensions that are in the red to the tune of $100 billion, and do whatever he could to prevent the passage of a higher minimum wage. The fact that he beat Chicago machine politician Pat Quinn by more than 5 points was the exclamation point to the change in voter sentiment.

The “throw the bums out” voter attitude that put Rauner in office also propelled conservatives to victories across the country, including taking back the U.S. Senate. Pundits called it a “wave election.”

But with every tidal wave, there are innocent bystanders. One group being unfairly swamped in all of this is firefighters. You know, the guys who show up when you forget to clean the lint in your dryer for 18 months. Their quick response and experience is the reason the fire doesn’t spread from your ductwork to the rest of your house. They’re also the guys who show up unexpectedly over the holidays and revive Uncle Ernie, who between his third cocktail and fourth trip to the snack tray had a massive coronary in your living room.

When they’re not showing up in your most dire hour of need, fire departments across the country are literally fighting for their financial lives. They’re struggling for money to replace worn out equipment or buy new lifesaving heart monitors; they’re also fighting city councils over staffing levels – some cities want to ignore industry and government recommended standards and only have three firefighters on a truck or engine, and staff ambulances with just one paramedic who has advanced training such as the ability to read ECGs in the field and deliver drugs that can mean the difference between Uncle Ernie living or dying.

The one community that perhaps best symbolizes this nexus of anti-government voter sentiment and the good Samaritans who are caught in the middle of it all is Antioch, Illinois. Literally situated on the Illinois-Wisconsin border, about an hour north and slightly west of Chicago, Antioch has a bit of a storied fire history.

There are actually two Antiochs. There is the village, and then there is the township. For decades, both Antiochs – which comprise about eight square miles of a small downtown surrounded by rolling hills, lakes and channels – was protected by a mostly volunteer fire department. For ambulance service, the community relied on the private Antioch Rescue Squad. The rescue squad had an endowment that was left by a wealthy benefactor, but for the most part both groups relied on the usual funding – a small tax abatement (that barely covered operating expenses) that was heavily subsidized by donations, chicken barbecues and pancake breakfasts.

“For the longest time, this was a Norman Rockwell community of about 5,000,” said Deputy Chief Chris Lienhardt, who has been on the department for 30 years. “But over the past decade or so, our population has tripled and the number of people who could volunteer on the fire department has shrunk.”

And for decades, the rescue squad and the volunteer fire department had a “gentlemen’s agreement,” to help out each other, said Chief John Nixon. The fire department – which had volunteers who were Emergency Medical Technicians – would respond to rescue squad calls when they needed extra help, and the rescue squad would come to Antioch fire calls, should anyone be injured and need medical care.

“When I was a kid, I split my finger wide open,” Lienhardt said. “I didn’t call 9-1-1 or go to the ER. I walked up the block to Doug Lang’s house. He was on the rescue squad, patched up my finger, and sent me on my way. That’s how this town was.”

That all started to change in 2013 when the Antioch Rescue Squad was sued by a former employee for sexual harassment. Long story short, the village and township both ceased doing business with the rescue squad, so the fire department stepped in to provide EMS service to the community.

Historically, the fire department had been an all-volunteer corps. But over the past five years it had evolved to include a 24-hour paid crew at one station, followed by another crew at a second station. Many of those paid crew members were full-time firefighters at other departments, working second jobs. So when Antioch Rescue folded, many of the Antioch volunteers and paid firefighters were already certified paramedics.

Within nine days of Antioch ending its relationship with the rescue squad, the fire department had three crews with nine people, Lienhardt said.

Today, the Antioch Fire Department has four used ambulances with full crews, providing EMS service to a community that’s at least 20-30 minutes away from any other Advanced Life Support ambulance service.

“We took over EMS with no funding sources,” Chief Nixon said. “The village set aside some of its reserves for operation of an ALS ambulance, but without a sustainable funding mechanism, we couldn’t keep it going.”

Adding to Antioch’s budget problems, the demise of Antioch Rescue came in the middle of the budget cycle, and at a time when property tax revenues had fallen along with real estate values.

Fast-forward a few months to the 2014 mid-term elections. The fire department put together a series of town hall meetings to explain to residents in both the village and the township why they were asking to raise property tax levies. They volunteered to canvas neighborhoods, passing out fliers and talking with anyone who had questions about the proposed levy.

In the meantime, in May 2014, the Antioch Rescue Squad, which had been temporarily suspended by the city and township, was terminated permanently. In what can only be seen as an act of spite, the rescue squad donated all of its equipment to departments outside of Antioch.

“We needed to establish a permanent funding mechanism,” Chief Nixon said. “The best way to do that was to create a levy to provide ALS ambulances funded off real estate property taxes.”

So what did the Antioch Fire Department ask for, you’re wondering?

“We asked for one quarter of one percent,” Chief Nixon said.

In other words, 0.25%.

“On a residence valued at $100,000, it would mean the homeowner would pay $83 a year,” Deputy Chief Lienhardt said.

According to the 2010 census, the median value of a home in Antioch is just over $200,000, up from about $160,000 in 2000, but down significantly from 2007-08.

“We picked the absolute hardest time to attempt this real estate levy,” Chief Nixon admits. “There hadn’t been a request [for a property tax increase] in Lake County in five years.”

You know where this is going.

Out of about 4,000 voters, the measure failed by 214 votes in the village and 650 votes in the township.

“Many people didn’t understand why this was suddenly being thrust upon them,” Chief Nixon said. “But in the end, people simply didn’t want to pay for any new taxes.”

And here’s the kicker: If your house in Antioch is worth, say, $200,000, you’d pay about $170 a year for ambulance service that you may or may not need. But without the referendum, Antioch Fire is now billing $1,500, the standard rate. Thanks to Medicaid and private insurance rules, the fire department is only collecting about 40% of what they’re billing. Adding to the fire department’s budget woes, a survey of the area found that some 37% of residents don’t have insurance of any kind that would cover ambulance trips.

So where does all this leave the Antioch Fire Department, which currently responds to about 2,000 calls a year in both the village and township?

“We will make a second attempt at referendum in April 2015,” Chief Nixon said. “The fire district is out of money and has no reserves. We’ve already had to close one fire station and reduce on-duty staffing from 11 to 8.”

And if the April 2015 referendum fails?

“There’s a strong possibility that there won’t be any ambulance service in Antioch, and residents will have to rely on private EMS,” Deputy Chief Lienhardt said.

In the meantime, Antioch Fire – ever the good guys, mostly volunteers – will continue to run EMS calls at their own expense (and to the detriment of their overall fire budget) until April 2015.

“We’re not a wealthy department,” said Deputy Chief Lienhardt, who has an annual training budget of just $18,000 and 20-year-old equipment that’s now 25 years old, with no hope of replacement anytime soon with the budget strain of the new, unfunded EMS responsibilities.

But the taxpayers got what they wanted: No new taxes.

The big question is: Can they live with that decision – both literally and figuratively?

 

Cooper’s Daughter Featured

Cooper’s Daughter,” the first book in my Rick Crane Noir series, is one of the featured selections over at Stay Thirsty Press this month.

In addition to promoting the book, there’s an interview with me about my writing, why noir, and why Upstate New York.

Cooper's Daughter CoverRick Crane is the classic noir-flawed good guy. When we first meet Rick, he works as a private eye, mostly investigating cheating spouses. He’s also a part-time enforcer for the local mob boss.

 

A lot of people don’t realize that Upstate New York – places like Rochester, Syracuse and Buffalo – are as mobbed up as Brooklyn and the Bronx. Before it became the Rust Belt, Upstate New York, where I went to high school, was part of the industrial heartland. And in that heartland, there were union contracts to negotiate, well-paid workers who liked to gamble and borrow money. And businesses to shake down. It was prime mob country.

 

So we meet Rick, and shortly after he blackmails one of the cheating wives he’s following into going to bed with him, down-on-his-luck Bill Cooper comes to Rick while he’s having his morning coffee, spiked with bourbon, at the local bar. Cooper’s daughter has been murdered. He barely has two nickels to rub together, but Rick feels sorry for him and takes on his case. This sets up the good guy-bad guy persona of Rick. He’s breaking fingers one minute to get guys to pay their vigorish loans to Rick’s boss, the next he’s risking life and limb so that Bill Cooper can have some closure with his daughter’s murder.

“Cooper’s Daughter” and the second book in the series, “Jimmy’s Nephew,” are both available on Amazon.

Enjoy.

Jimmy’s Nephew 5-Star Review: Sad It’s Over

Jimmy's NephewStarting off the New Year with a bang: Another five-star review for “Jimmy’s Nephew,” the second book in my Rick Crane Noir series.

“Loved the book. Read on a recent trip to LA – sad it’s over.”

Here’s another great review of the book from Stay Thirsty Publishing:

“A double thumbs up for Mark Yost’s second book in the Rick Crane series, Jimmy’s Nephew. Yost is at his best in the upstate NY detective thriller. If you liked Cooper’s Daughter you’ll love Jimmy’s Nephew.”

Book three is due out in a few months, so get caught up in the popular detective series by reading “Cooper’s Daughter” and “Jimmy’s Nephew” today.