Blight reduction causes downturn in arsons, Campbell officials say


By Graig Graziosi

ggraziosi@vindy.com

CAMPBELL

The city’s effort with the Mahoning County Land Bank to demolish vacant and blighted structures have had more of an impact than just removing eyesores in the city; it’s helped reduce arsons as well.

Fire Chief Nicholas Hrelec said arson calls have dropped in recent years, and he has a theory as to why.

“Arsons have been down, thanks to the demolition program with the city and the land bank,” Hrelec said. “Maureen O’Neil has been pretty aggressive about getting the houses torn down. The program seems to be working.”

Hrelec is referring to the city’s property specialist, Maureen O’Neil, who oversees the city’s efforts to identify vacant structures and get them either taken care of by their owners or turned over to the Mahoning County Land Bank.

“Property code enforcement can improve the look and appeal of a neighborhood, but it’s also a safety issue,” O’Neil said. “By using a ‘property triage’ method that prioritizes the worst structures, not only have we seen fewer arsons, but we are also combating other ill effects that come with these places, such as vandals, rodents and pests.”

Mayor Nick Phillips said the code enforcement and zoning efforts were resulting in a “brighter picture in Campbell’s neighborhoods.”

According to the United States Fire Administration, while only 6 percent of structure fires between 2011 and 2015 were at vacant properties, 13 percent of firefighter injuries in that same time period occurred at vacant structure fires.

Of those vacant structure fires, the USFA reported that half were caused intentionally.

While fewer calls is good news for any fire station, it’s especially so for the city fire department, which operates with only four full-time firefighters and 20 part-timers.

By comparison, the city of Struthers, which has 2,370 more people than Campbell, employs twice as many full-time firefighters.

“We work with what the city can afford,” Hrelec said. “Ideally, we’d like to have it so we have two guys at the station at all times, but we’ll work with what we’ve got.”

The fire department’s budget decreased between 2017 and 2018, from $410,870 to $397,222.

George Levendis, city council president, said the budget for the department decreased because the city has been trying to “do more with less.”

“We’re trying to keep as minimal staffing as possible and utilize our auxiliary firefighters more,” he said. “We don’t have much of a choice.”

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