Leneghan: Violet Township runs tight fiscal ship
One Liberty Township Trustee says the Violet Township fire department, which serves the Pickerington area southeast of Columbus, could be a model for the local fire department.
Trustee Melanie Leneghan, who opposes the five-year, 6.6-mill fire levy set to appear on the Nov. 6 ballot, says Violet Township's staffing levels prove the Liberty Township fire department could do more with less.
In fact, the Violet department does respond to significantly more emergency calls with staffing levels comparable to the Liberty department.
"Violet has been, to me, the biggest eye-opener," Leneghan said. "They're in an area where people expect good service. They do a lot more calls, and yet they're very well-respected for their performance."
But Violet Township Fire Department Chief John Eisel says he doesn't think the Liberty Township department is overstaffed. He said its staffing levels seem in line with national standards, as well as the demographics of the community.
Liberty Township fire officials have long said that other departments "wish" they could afford to match its staffing levels, and Eisel agrees.
"Would I like to have more staff? Absolutely," Eisel said. "You get the level of service that the community is willing to pay for. It's that way with any commodity or any type of service."
Violet Township serves a population about 25 percent bigger than Liberty Township (38,500 compared to 28,400), and it receives about twice the call volume.
But it doesn't have twice the staffing levels of the Liberty department. In fact Violet Township's average staffing levels are just slightly above those in Liberty Township .
Liberty staffs between 12-15 full time firefighter-paramedics, and one part time employee, during each shift. Due to vacations and other absences, however, it staffs 15 just a small fraction of the time (13 days per year on average.) On most days it staffs 13 or 14 total employees between its two fire stations, with a minimum of 13.
By comparison Violet staffs 14 full-time staff firefighter-paramedics and two part-time employees daily, with a minimum of 14 total between its three stations.
And the Violet department has a budget of $7.5 million, just $1 million more than Liberty, which currently spends $6.5 million per year.
But in any transaction you get what you pay for.
Liberty Township Fire Chief Tim Jensen and other levy backers say taxpayers are buying top quality with the proposed fire levy, which is necessary to retain current staffing levels. They argue that any reduction in staffing would likely result in worse service or longer response times.
The Violet department itself has struggled with lagging response times, Eisel said, particularly six years ago when the northwest corner of that township saw rapid development. They coped by leasing space for a small station at the rear of a nearby strip mall.
Eisel said Violet Township doesn't compare to Liberty Township in other respects. For instance, it has closer proximity to nearby hospitals, reducing the burden on EMS workers.
He also said Violet Township is more rural, with about 40 percent of the coverage area being undeveloped. The Liberty department protects about twice the property value, despite its smaller coverage area and population.
Staffing ratios are much less lopsided when comparing Liberty Township to neighboring communities.
It currently has about 2,200 residents per firefighter on duty. Orange Township has roughly 2,000 per firefighter, as does Dublin. Genoa Township has about 2,400 residents per firefighter.
Those ratios roughly cohere to standards set by the National Fire Protection agency, according to Jensen, which are based on the ideal number of firefighters for certain fire emergencies.
But Leneghan contends that call volume is a more important metric than population. The more emergency calls a fire department receives in a typical day, the more staff it needs.
And she says residents should carefully consider that some stations, including Violet Township, respond to many more calls without spending much more money.