Volunteer fire departments giving way to joint districts

The small volunteer fire department in Warren County responsible for responding to emergencies at the Ohio Renaissance Festival, as well as on and around Caesar Creek Lake, could be joining the growing list of Ohio fire and emergency medical service units merged into a joint district.

The Massie Twp. Volunteer Fire Department is embarking on the process of assessing - and if favored by its elected officials forming - a joint fire district with neighboring Chester Twp., Clinton County.

“The volunteer departments are kind of going by the wayside,” Massie Twp. Trustee Mark Dawson said recently.

In Ohio, two sections of state law offer guides to making the change, according to Glenn Alexander, former Dayton fire chief and a consultant who assisted in the formation of the Miami Valley Fire District, among others.

“It really doesn’t take a whole lot of legal maneuvering,” he said.

Provided those sections are followed, “it simply takes the political powers of the two jurisdictions by majority vote to form a fire district,” he added.

The formation of fire departments varies in the region and across the state.

In the Dayton area, the Clearcreek Twp. Fire District handles fire and ambulance responses in Springboro, as well as unincorporated areas of the township. The Beavercreek Twp. Fire Department does the same, but without formation of a district.

Among about 1,200 fire departments in Ohio, the State Fire Marshal’s Office lists about 50 with the words “joint fire district” in their name.

MORE: Beavercreek Twp. to build $2.5 million fire station

The Miami Valley Fire District, responsible for the Dayton Mall and Austin Landing commercial areas, as well as dense residential development, recently passed a five-year review period and was made permanent through votes by the Miami Twp. Board of Trustees and Miamisburg City Council.

Key issues to be solved involve the merging of departments with different contracts and skill levels and leveling of the millages levied against property owners to pay for the services.

For fire and EMS service, property owners in the Massie service area currently pay 5 mills of property tax, Chester Twp. 4.5 mills.

A joint district can provide superior service or save tax dollars by sharing resources and staff, Alexander said.

“If the trustees are of a like mind, it can happen that quickly,” he added.

In this case, Alexander said the key stumbling block was clearing objections throw up by firefighters from the two departments “which couldn’t have been more different.”

RELATED:Miamisburg, Miami Twp. make fire district permanent

Ultimately a new union was formed to represent the joint fire district’s staff.

Community education was also important, Alexander added.

Fear of a loss of local control can be countered through formation of a board including members from each jurisdiction.

RELATED: Warren County’s Massie Twp. meeting tonight over fire department future

Massie Twp. is home to little commercial development and about 1,500 residents. Less than 20 volunteers comprise the available staff, although 11 other possible staffers could be added, Dawson said.

The trustees also emphasized a joint district qualifies for more grant dollars, lightening the financial load on local property owners.

In addition to Chester Twp., Massie officials are expected to talk with two other join districts along the Warren-Clinton line, the Clinton-Warren Joint Fire & Rescue District centered in Clarksville in and SRWW Joint Fire District #2 centered in Sabina.

The Warren-Clinton district was formed to simplify fire and rescue operations in Vernon and Adams townships in Clinton County and Washington Twp., Warren County. One levy was passed, replacing contracts with outlying departments already served by the department.

“It’s been good for us,” Fire Chief Bob Wysong said.

A proposed merger between Franklin, Franklin Twp. and Carlisle in the late 1990’s failed to come together.

“The primary problem was melding the Franklin city fire department with the township fire department,” recalled Rupert Ruppert, a former township trustee and recently retired municipal judge.

MORE: Coach boating with daughter drowns in Caesar Creek Lake

Massie Twp. Trustee David Crisenbery suggested they hoped to merge with Chester Twp. Fire & Rescue by the end of the year.

But Steven Collett, vice president of the Chester Twp. Board of Trustees, was hesitant about committing to the move.

“I said we could explore it,” Collett said. “It’s not something we are actively pursuing,”

In the interim, the Massie trustees are considering seeking an additional levy beyond the 5 mills currently raising about $92,000 a year for department operations.

About two weeks ago, fire protection, handled through mutual aid with Chester Twp. and Wayne Twp., across Caesar Creek Lake in Warren County since the resignation of the Massie fire chief, was resumed.

MORE: Safety questions raised about Caesar Creek marina

The trustees picked Donald Fugate to succeed Fire Chief Scott Hines, who resigned on Jan. 2, after the trustees received a second internal investigative report on him.

Emergency medical service - handled through mutual aid with Wayne Twp., Warren County, and Chester Twp., Clinton County - still has to be returned to the department.

In the short term, Massie trustees are also studying contracting with Chester Twp. for services.

But in the long run, the trustees are leaning toward creating a joint fire district with Chester Twp.

“That is the goal,” Trustee Daryl McKinney said.

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