In a clear and assertive statement, the new-look Liberty Township board of trustees last week restored and reinforced local control of its emergency medical services and support for its township firefighters and paramedics.
At its Jan. 2 organizational meeting, the board – now made up of Shyra Eichhorn, Mike Gemperline and newcomer Bryan Newell, who replaced Melanie Leneghan – took several actions to either clarify or rescind its prior decisions regarding health and safety services for the township.
“There (were) items that needed to be addressed and wrongs that we needed to right, and we wanted to get them done quickly,” Eichhorn said after the meeting.
Among other business, trustees passed resolutions pledging support to the Liberty Township Fire Department as the primary provider of fire and EMS services to the township and withdrawing prior communication with Delaware County regarding replacing the township’s EMS with the county’s EMS.
“We listened to our residents,” Eichhorn said. “We’re making a loud statement that the township fire department has the support of this board.”
Newell called the resolution of support “truly important.”
“It was symbolic and proof that we’re in (the township firefighters’ and paramedics’) corner,” he said. “I hope everybody sees it that way.”
Save Our Services spokesman Nico Franano said it’s “unfortunate” the previous board left so much uncertainty for residents and the fire department.
“It was important for the new board to take significant steps to put some of that to rest,” he said.
Trustees also voted to hire three full-time firefighter/paramedics, addressing what Eichhorn called an “area where staffing at both township fire stations has not been done in the way that our residents expected.”
In addition, trustees voted to exercise a clause in their contract with Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center for medical director services and appointed Dr. Warren Yamarick interim medical director. Yamarick was terminated in January 2019 after he was critical of proposed changes to the township’s EMS services. He had been with the township for 28 years.
The board will seek bids to fill the medical director position on a permanent basis.
Eichhorn said she had no issue with the service provided by Ohio State, headed by Dr. Ashish Panchal, whom Eichhorn said “did an outstanding job.”
“But the way Dr. Yamarick was treated was appalling. We needed to hit the reset button on that one,” Eichhorn said.
Gemperline, who stood with Leneghan throughout last year in voting for many of the measures regarding township EMS, could not be reached for comment this week.
At the Jan. 2 meeting, he voted against the resolutions of support for the township’s fire and EMS and to terminate the contract with OSU.
He recused himself from a vote to appoint Yamarick, and voted in favor of the resolutions to hire three firefighters and to withdraw prior communication with Delaware County.
Newell said the actions by the board are a “meaningful first step,” adding more changes will follow.
“In the first quarter of the year, I think we hope to put to bed all of the ‘old business,’ if you will,” he said.
Moving forward, Newell said, will require work to better understand the township’s financial picture.
He also said he intends to recommend the township consider an accreditation process for its fire department – “just something that puts in place some standards that prevents two trustees just putting (the future of the department) on an agenda and voting,” he said.
Eichhorn said the board still will have the conversation about funding for the fire department.
“Everybody understands you can’t do everything in one meeting,” Franano said. “We’ll want to make sure moving forward that we live the values that were stated.”