Jefferson Township Fire Chief Crystal Dickerson said the need is real, and it's up to residents concerning the level of services they want from the fire department.
Township voters will decide the fate of a new 3-mill levy May 7 to sustain the fire department's current operations.
The levy would cost property owners an additional $91.88 per $100,000 of assessed property value, she said. It would generate $1.3 million annually.
"It's a very critical levy," Dickerson said. "We need to continue operating if our residents wish us to operate. It's for operational needs only to keep operating at status quo. If it fails, we'll make drastic cuts and lay off firefighters."
The second of two town hall meetings was scheduled April 23 to get the message out.
"We put a lot of information out there," Dickerson said. "We've been here to educate. Residents have asked good questions. A lot said they would support it. It's up to them on how they vote. All we can do is educate."
If the levy fails, Dickerson said, immediate cuts will have to be made to an already slim operating budget. At risk is the department's part-time staff that could lead to putting the ladder truck out of service. Dickerson said the department would lose three part-time positions per day.
"That's three people to staff trucks," she said. "Our part-time staff helps subsidize our crew. Staffing is critical. This is very critical."
The fire department currently staffs one full-time station at 6767 Havens Corners Road in Blacklick.
On a typical 24-hour shift, up to nine firefighters/paramedics and a battalion chief are on duty.
If the issue fails, Dickerson said, a forced retirement with a reduction in operational expenses could save three full-time firefighters.
She said voters last approved an increase in 2007, and that 2-mill levy was renewed in November 2012.
Dickerson said the department has experienced increases in operational costs no recent increase in revenue.
The Jefferson Township Fire Department responded to a record 2,077 calls for assistance in 2012, she said.
"We serve a population the size of a city with almost 11,000 residents," Dickerson said. "We're the fasting-growing township in Franklin County, according to the 2010 census."
The service area is about 14 square miles and includes parts of Reynoldsburg, Gahanna and Columbus.
The department was established as a volunteer department in 1967. Since then it has transitioned from volunteers to a combination of full- and part-time firefighters and paramedics.
To see how the Jefferson Township Fire Department compares to other local fire departments or for more information about the issue, go online to jeffersontownship.org.