Three Fulton County townships that canceled their fire service contracts with the Wauseon Fire Department to save money will likely be told that a continuing mutual aid agreement between them and the city is no longer free.
Wauseon City Council on Monday approved a draft letter from Law Director Tom McWatters III stating that York, Pike, and Chesterfield townships will now have to pay hourly rates to receive the city’s fire services. The letter, to be signed by Wauseon Mayor Kathy Huner and Clinton Township Trustees Ivan Hite, Larry Neuenschwander, and Rick Frey, will spell out the new payment agreement and give the townships a March 31 deadline to respond.
The draft template is directed specifically at York Township, but identical letters will be sent to both Pike and Chesterfield townships. The letter states that the joint operational fire services of Wauseon and Clinton Township will continue to be provided to the townships during mutual aid requests but at a price.
Clinton Township trustees will receive the draft for review on Thursday.
According to the agreement, the townships would pay:
• A $1,000 activation/deployment fee if the fire tones sound for assistance and for any emergency call other than ALS 8;
• An hourly rate – with a minimum of one hour – for apparatus, including $250 for an engine; $200 for a tanker; $350 for an aerial ladder; and $50 for support vehicles;
• An hourly rate – with a minimum of one hour – for personnel, including $75 for a chief officer; $65 for an officer; and $55 for a firefighter of any certification level.
The agreement also calls for services to be under the exclusive control of Wauseon’s fire chief, and negates liability for damages the township or its residents may incur during services.
York, Pike, and Chesterfield townships opted out of a 2.5-mill rate for Wauseon fire service, an increase they first received notice of in 2016. They ended their contracts with the city beginning this year, with York and Pike townships instead making agreements with Delta Community Fire Department and Chesterfield Township pairing with the Lyons and Morenci, Mich., fire departments.
“The surrounding townships seem to be making all of their decisions based on financial (considerations),” Wauseon Fire Chief Rick Sluder said. “They say it’s easier to go with other fire departments. I say it’s a dangerous decision. They can’t get there as fast as we can. We’ve got a five- to six-minute head start. It increases the response time.”
Wauseon’s fire services covered about 14-16 miles of York Township, about 6.5 square miles of Pike Township, and about 3.5 square miles of southern Chesterfield Township.
Sluder said the payment schedule was drafted after it appeared the townships intended to receive the city’s fire services free through mutual aid requests. He said the city’s proximity to the townships guarantees the Wauseon Fire Department will always be the first on scene.
“What they’re trying to do is use mutual aid as a primary means of fire response without any cost to them,” Sluder said. “The draft is telling them, if we are used in that manner we’re going to charge fees.”
He said mutual aid agreements have traditionally provided aid to other fire departments whose resources are depleted. He
The townships in question are likely not aware of legalities within the Ohio Fire Code, Sluder said. He said politicians don’t understand fire services but still choose to make decisions regarding them.
“They never seem to seek guidance in making those decisions,” he said. “It isn’t that we don’t want to provide the service. It’s that they’ve chosen to basically ask for free service. Is it fair for the (residents) paying for fire service?”
Clinton Township Trustee Ivan Hite doesn’t agree with Sluder’s assessment that free service is being sought. “Bringing mutual aid into it just puts too much tension into the discussion,” he said. “Now we’re drawing lines in the sand. I don’t want to do that.”
Hite did agree that Wauseon’s intention to charge the affected townships for fire services “is something that has to be put on the table.”
He said the county’s townships plan to form a joint committee to discuss their fire/EMS contracts.
“The townships want to make sure that they’re moving forward in the right direction to make sure they’re not falling beghind in their fire respoinsibilities in their areas,” Hite said. “There’s a lot to discuss to make sure everybody’s on the same page. A little information is dangerous, and they just want more information so they can make good decisions.”
York Township Trustee Robert Trowbridge said he won’t comment until he sees the letter, but added, “I guess they just want to opt out of mutual aid, from what it sounds.”
Since the the townships opted out of their contracts the Wauseon Fire Department has made four runs to York Township involving car accidents. Sluder said for now the department will continue to respond to calls from the three townships but a decision will be made if they refuse the agreement.
“If we’re paged out, we’ll go there,” he said. “It’s going to keep going until there’s a hard, fast line drawn.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.