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Fire departments look toward consolidation



Published: Sun, September 10, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



The level of commitment required of emergency medical technicians has grown dramatically.

By ED RUNYAN

VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF

HOWLAND -- Three attempts to consolidate fire departments in Trumbull County in recent months have come about because of the difficulty of maintaining smaller departments across the country, one official says.

Howland Fire Chief George Brown, whose department has taken steps to form a partnership with departments such as Bazetta, Cortland, Fowler and Champion, said fire departments everywhere are scraping to secure the funding and the manpower to provide services.

Brown, president of the Ohio Fire Chiefs Association, said one problem is that people who would have volunteered to be a firefighter 20 or 25 years ago can no longer do it because of job and family responsibilities.

"It's harder for one of these people to leave their home and run these calls," Brown said, adding that in two-income families, they just don't have the time. "It's a big commitment, especially for volunteers," he added.

Another change in society is that 20 years ago, many people were working factory jobs that operated 24 hours a day. Today, more people work daytime hours, making it more difficult to get a volunteer to respond to a call during the day.

More calls

Brown said departments are being pulled in two directions: While the number of volunteers has dropped, the number of calls has risen, especially ones for emergency medical services, and the expertise required to perform many of the duties has increased.

For instance, today's firefighters get training in rope rescue, auto extrication, hazardous materials, carbon monoxide detection and confined-space rescue.

"A lot of calls are coming in now that we didn't get 25 years ago," Brown said.

The result, sometimes, is that it becomes difficult to get a quick response to an emergency. "We've all seen the situation where resources are not available," Brown said.

Tom Strock, Southington's fire chief, attended a meeting Thursday in Farmington in which seven departments in the northwest part of the county held a second meeting to consider sharing their resources for much the same reasons Brown mentioned: shortage of money and manpower.

Strock said he has three volunteer medics in his department, all of whom spent a year in school to secure the required training. But there are times when his department cannot answer the ever-increasing number of emergency medical service calls.

The procedure is for department members to be notified of an EMS call and then the call repeated every two minutes. If the call is not answered after six minutes, another department is called and the waiting period becomes even longer, Strock said.

Last week, the volunteer department had three calls in one day, Strock said. The department responded to 210 auto accidents last year. "It's just staggering," Strock said.

More talks

The seven departments attending Thursday's meeting -- Southington, Bristol, Braceville, Farmington, Bloomfield, Champion and Warren Township -- agreed to hold another meeting Oct. 26 at the Farmington Township Hall to continue the dialogue.

Another group of fire departments -- Hubbard, Brookfield and Liberty -- also have started talks about forming a fire district. A meeting is planned for sometime in October on that plan.

Strock and Brown agreed that a bona fide joint fire district is probably not in the cards for any of the county's departments because it requires each department to give up its identity. Each department within the district would work under one name and one budget. One day, however, Brown hopes the whole county might work toward a county fire department.

Reducing costs

A more real and immediate likelihood is that these departments will agree to join for purposes of purchasing, something many departments have done in the past.

For instance, Strock said his department and Farmington have joined in the past to get a cheaper price for truck maintenance and testing.

Brown said a cooperative agreement could reduce costs, for instance, by eliminating the need for all of the departments in the cooperative to have their own backup pumper truck or spare load of fire hose. "Every department probably doesn't need one," Brown said.

Around 1988, Brown noted, his department and Bazetta saved money by buying ladder trucks, and seven or eight departments worked together to buy "turnout gear" used to fight fires, he said.

Howland also has an agreement with Bazetta and Weathersfield whereby the departments automatically send a fire engine to fires near the borders of the townships. If the departments formed a fire district, agreements and cooperation of that type would be put in writing, he said.

One thing that has made cooperation among departments better, Brown noted, is Homeland Security funding that has flowed into the county since Sept. 11, 2001. The money has enabled most departments to get on the same radio frequency, where several years ago there were eight.

In July, when 12 departments responded to flooding in Lake County, the departments communicated seamlessly, Brown said.

runyan@vindy.com




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