Fire department answered 4,800 calls in 2012
The Violet Township Fire Department continues to provide more services within its budgetary framework, thanks to a revenue recovery program for emergency medical services that it implemented in 2010.
Fire Chief John Eisel said his department had 4,800 responses in 2012, the first time it has ever broken the 4,500 figure for the number of responses in a year.
He said without the revenue recovery program, his department's budget would have taken a major hit.
"We're up in all categories, things are getting busier for us," Eisel told Pickerington City Council's safety committee Jan. 15. He credited the revenue recovery program with staving off a ballot measure to fund the fire department.
"If we had not made the decision for (revenue recovery), we would have had to go to the ballot last year," Eisel said. "It's been a good band-aid, (but) not an end-all," he said.
The Violet Township Board of Trustees approved a resolution in March 2010 that allowed the fire department to bill insurance carriers for emergency response services.
Eisel said insurance carriers have coverage for ambulance transportation and the fire department is able to bill those carriers directly through a billing company to help recover EMS transport revenue.
"We're able to capture these funds and bring them back locally for use in our community," Eisel said, adding money generated by the EMS program goes to offset other department expenses.
"Just as expenses for things such as fuel, commodities and electricity have climbed for residents, our expenses have climbed as well. EMS has helped."
Although the department hired no additional staff in 2012, Eisel said it has "just brought on six new part-time employees."
He said restrictions by the state of Ohio limit the number of hours they will be able to work.
"They can't work part-time more than 1,500 hours a year. If we (go over), we have to offer benefits," Eisel said.
According to Eisel, further complicating the staffing process is federal law.
The Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as "Obamacare," is expected to mandate employers provide insurance coverage for employees who work more than 30 hours a week.
The failure of employers to provide coverage is supposed to result in the assessment of monetary penalties.
"The health care reform clause stipulates part-time workers are (those that work) 30 hours a week or more," Eisel said.
"If that's the case, it's going to take a toll on the fire service because we work in 24-hour shifts," he said.
"It's more fiscally effective to have three shifts and work the way we do. We're still investigating that piece of the puzzle," he said.
Eisel said the department probably will consider volunteers to round out staffing.
"I'm sure we'll take on some volunteers at some point in 2013," he said. "That is still a program that is alive and well."
Violet Township currently has three fire stations. Acreage is set aside for a possible fourth station adjacent to Busey Road Park, however, current numbers don't support a new station there in the foreseeable future.
"We have (Busey Road) as an option or we could consolidate efforts with other entities," Eisel said.
"The big deal right now is demand. There is just really not the run volume down in that area yet (to support a new fire station)."
He told the safety committee the increase in the number of responses will warrant a corresponding increase in apparatus and personnel, which means the real possibility of placing an operating levy on the ballot "in a year or two."
"We'll be at a crossroads if the run numbers (continue) to increase," Eisel said. "We continue to keep an eye on our revenue and expenses.
"We haven't asked the taxpayers for an increase since 2002," Eisel said. "We promised the taxpayers in 2002 that they wouldn't hear a word from us (about) any increases for five years."
Eisel said the final decision will rest with the taxpayers if and when the fire department seeks additional taxpayer revenue to sustain its operations.
"Ultimately, the taxpayer has the final say whether we do or don't," he said. "We work through them."