Although he was eligible to retire eight years ago, Plain Township Fire Department Chief John Hoovler said he didn't feel ready.

Until now.

"I think the time has come," he said.

Hoovler plans to retire July 24, said Ben Collins, township administrator.

Collins said Hoovler, who came to Plain Township Oct. 7, 1994, notified staff members in December of his decision.

Hoovler, 72, said one of the key factors was that he did not want to have to go through staying certified with the state.

As a fire chief, Hoovler said, he is required by the state to complete specific hours of continuing education every year in the categories of fire inspector, firefighter and paramedic, he said. He said the state requires recertification every three years; his certifications expire on his birthday, July 28.

"It becomes more and more difficult," he said.

Hoovler, who lives near Johnstown in Licking County, said he will focus on raising beef cattle on his farm after he retires.

"The older I get, the less work I can accomplish in a day," he said.

The township on March 6 posted a job announcement on its website, plaintownship.org, Collins said.

The search will include internal and external candidates.

Collins said he hopes to have a first review of candidates by April, depending on the responses.

He said he wants to select a new chief before Hoovler's departure, although naming an interim chief also is an option. He said the township trustees must approve the hiring of a new chief.

When the chief started at the township in 1994, he arrived at a department consisting of mostly volunteers, Collins said. The department at that time had fewer than 10 full-time firefighters, he said.

Now the department has 38 full-time firefighters, including three battalion chiefs, three captains and three lieutenants, Collins said. In addition, the department includes Hoovler, an assistant chief, a fire marshal, an administrative assistant and a fire inspector, as well as a fluctuating number of part-time staff members, he said.

Plain Township contains approximately 18 square miles, including New Albany, Collins said. The department also participates in mutual aid with surrounding jurisdictions, such as the cities of Columbus and Westerville, Mifflin and Jefferson townships and the West-Licking Joint Fire District.

Since the township began tracking fire-department data in 1997, service calls have had an average increase of 5.4% per year, according to statistics shared by the township.

Collins said the number of calls for service varies quite a bit annually.

From 2018 to 2019, the total calls for service increased by 11.1%, from 2,612 calls in 2018 to 2,902 calls in 2019.

Collins said the township is evaluating information on an ongoing basis and continues to use peak-time-staffing figures to address an increase in demand for service during weekdays. About 70% of the service demand comes from calls from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, he said.

"We're trying to address the need where it occurs," he said.

Collins said he attributes some of the service demand during weekdays to the daytime population in the city during the work week in the New Albany International Business Campus. The New Albany-Plain Local School District campus and daytime traffic volumes also are factors, he said.

Assisted-living facilities also use more emergency resources than typical residential developments, Collins said. Several are around the township's service area, and First & Main of New Albany is in the city, he said.

Collins said the township is reviewing run data from First & Main to better understand its impact on service. Last year, the township had 120 recorded calls for service at First & Main that the fire department responded to.

Another senior living facility, Smith's Mill Health Campus, is also open in the city at 7320 Smith's Mill Road, Collins said.

The township has no plans to build a second station right now and no specific site for it, Collins said. Since the township's master plan was updated in 2011, a number of township fire stations have opened near Plain Township, including in Mifflin and Monroe townships and in the West-Licking Joint Fire District.

He said the other stations help by taking more of the calls for service that the Plain Township Fire Department otherwise would have had to handle.

"It's a changing landscape of service demand," Collins said.

Collins said the township is monitoring Columbus' plans for its next fire station at Central College and Harlem roads because a station could also affect Plain Township's service demands. Columbus is the largest recipient of mutual aid from the township, he said.

Collins said the township is interested in how the city's road network could contribute to the township's ability to serve the community with fire and emergency-medical services. An improved road network might help provide services more efficiently, he said.

An example of a road-related challenge is the large amount of traffic coming from state Route 605 and U.S. Route 62 that flows through the roundabout at Market and Main streets, Collins said.

That traffic can be challenging when the township has emergency response in the southern portion of its service area, he said.

In general, New Albany does not have as many road connections as some other communities, Collins said.

"That can be a challenge," he said.

ssole@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSarah