Olentangy Valley News

News report sparks trustee talk on fire staffing

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A WBNS-10TV news report that aired last week earned a spot on the agenda for the Liberty Township Fire Department at Monday's Board of Trustees meeting.

The news segment suggested that a contractor who suffered a heart attack and died while on a roof earlier this summer, could have been saved if the department had enough on-duty staff to deploy a ladder truck to the scene.

Instead of sending its own ladder truck to the scene, the township issued a mutual aid call for one from a neighboring department.

After viewing the story, Liberty Trustee Mary Carducci asked that Fire Chief Tim Jensen provide information on the department's staffing needs and the effects on the department's response times and capabilities from this year's 20-percent decrease in staff.

"Budget cuts that are in place are affecting the ability to do our job," Jensen said.

He offered some numbers, but told trustees at the Sept. 16 meeting that he would have better statistics to share once a year has passed since staff cuts were made as a result of the November 2012 fire levy failure.

Although he didn't have numbers of EMS calls and response times for the year, he did offer examples of how the department has been affected -- and is affecting neighboring fire departments -- when it comes to firefighting.

"We impact our neighbors the more we have them help," Jensen said, noting that requests for mutual aid from nearby departments have increased this year.

In 2012, Liberty Township requested mutual aid from the Orange Township Fire Department 27 times. So far in 2013, Orange firefighters have had to lend a helping hand in 40 Liberty Township incidents.

Liberty Township called Concord Township for assistance 55 times in 2012. That number is at 71 mutual aid requests so far in 2013.

Jensen said the mutual aid agreements are in place so departments can save money, and most importantly, time, but working with outsiders is never as effective as working alongside peers who have the same training and familiarity with one another and department equipment.

Prior to the cuts, Jensen said three firefighters, who are also trained EMS providers, were assigned to the ladder truck at all times while three were assigned to EMS vehicles. Now, he determined that 87 percent of the time, just three staffers total are on call at each building because of EMS calls.

"We're working to operate within the parameters we've been given to work with," Jensen said. "It's not ideal, but we're working with it."

Prior to the meeting, trustees and residents were able to get the first look at the department's new EMS transport vehicle. Trustees approved the $195,000 purchase in June, despite the department's dwindling funds because Jensen said purchasing a new vehicle was cheaper than continuing to pay for repairs to an aging vehicle.

On Monday, trustees Carducci and Curt Sybert approved a transfer to cover the purchase from the township's general fund to the fire department fund.

Trustee Melanie Leneghan voted against the transfer. She said she voted to approve the vehicle purchase with the understanding it would be funded through the fire department's budget.

Township Fiscal Officer Mark Gerber said the transfer was necessary because the fire department is on track to run out of money just in time for February. That is when funds from the emergency fire levy passed by voters in February 2012 begin rolling in.

ThisWeek Community News and 10TV share the same parent company -- The Dispatch Printing Co.

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