Joint fire district considered in SE Fulton Co.

By David J. Coehrs -

Citing a duplication of fire services in Fulton County, the creation of a shared fire district is being considered in the southeast part of the county.

The proposal was mentioned at a Swanton Village Council meeting last week after it was discussed Oct. 5 at a special Swancreek Township Trustees meeting that included Swanton Administrator Rosanna Hoelzle and Delta Administrator Brad Peebles. In that meeting, Swanton Fire Chief Mike Wolever said duplication of fire services has left Fulton County with more fire equipment than is necessary.

“So it makes a lot of sense from where I come from to form a district, or for all practical purpose they could do a county-wide fire department,” he said.

At the meeting, Wolever said outside services are available to determine a region’s fire frequency, population density, and response times, among other statistics, to determine how to best structure a fire district. He said it’s likely a fire building would have to be constructed.

Wolever also said the district, which would take two years to develop, could be managed by a single fire chief, eliminating the need for a deputy chief. He said that would save money on upper administration and middle management positions.

A potential downside to a fire district is the large service area it would be required to cover, Wolever said. He said he was unsure whether the territory encompassed would affect the industry’s accepted response time of 6 1/2 minutes.

But Hoelzle said she thought a centrally located department would improve response time.

Swancreek Township Trustee Rick Kazmierczak questioned at the meeting whether creation of a fire district would increase EMS funding from the county since the Swanton and York Township fire and emergency services would combine. He also asked if state grant money is available as start-up money for a fire district.

Kazmierczak told the meeting’s attendees he’s intrigued by the idea of a joint district. “Let’s shake it up all at once, and if it’s going to be better in the long term…and we’re not going to have the duplication of services and equipment, maybe that’s the way to look,” he said.

The trustee suggested the village could sell its fire equipment to raise capital for the venture.

He told Wolever the proposal for a joint fire district between Swanton and York Township is more feasible than his idea for a county-wide district, since some county fire chiefs are adamantly opposed to that.

“It would probably never fly,” Kazmierczak said.

Wolever said that’s because “it’s a big deal to become a fire chief, and so there’s a huge amount of ego attached to it. And nobody wants to give that kind of thing up. To suggest that you could do a fire district where you combine two or three departments – it would be a challenge, because the fire chiefs would wonder, ‘Well, what’s going to happen to me?’”

But he added, “From a financial standpoint, if I was sitting where you (trustees) are, I’d almost demand it.”

Peebles, who offered logistical information for a fire district at the meeting, said Friday a joint fire district would allow a funding mechanism equitable to all property owners within the service area. And, under a fire district, each political entity would take a seat on the management board.

“The ability to have management or oversight in management from each of the political jurisdictions involved is very appropriate,” he said. “The need for a broader-based management is also very valuable.”

Presently, York Township fire and emergency services extend into Pike, Fulton, and Swancreek townships and the Village of Delta.

Peebles said he advocates a fire district, but the idea is still in its infancy stage. He said the proposal must be analyzed “to see if this is viable for all concerned.”

Swancreek Township Trustee Ron Holdeman said he and his fellow trustees agreed not to discuss a fire district with the press because “things get turned around.”

Hoelzle said currently there is no proposed fire district.

“The only action so far is a discussion of feasibility of a fire district. There is a difference,” she said.

Hoelzle said a presentation from the Ohio Fire Chief’s Association is scheduled to learn what a feasibility study would entail.

By David J. Coehrs

David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.

David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.