2007-06-30 / News

Cooperation is critical for area fire departments

By Scott Rawdon

LAKE AREA- Lake area firechiefs said what happened between the City of Newark and Newark Township won't happen around the lake. Earlier this year, the Newark Township Fire Department made changes to its firerun cards after Newark City FirefighterBruce Gutridge's Newark Township house burned down Feb. 5. Newark City firefightersdispatched themselves to the scene seven minutes after the call for assistance was made. Newark Township firefightersarrived 20 minutes after the call. Gutridge filed a lawsuit alleging that the way in which Newark Township calls for assists is unsafe--Newark City should have been called immediately for back up. Newark Township changed its fire run cards to include the Newark City Fire Department May 10.

Jim Carney, legislative director of the Ohio Association of Professional Fire Fighters, said a "run card" refers to a notecard, piece of paper, or other written form of communication that informs a dispatcher which fireand ems units are to be sent to a certain address. The term is somewhat outdated, he said, as many dispatch centers now use computers, but the term is still used almost industry wide.

While the system design varies, Carney said run cards use geographic areas such as zones to assign units to calls. For example, the northwest quadrant of a township may be Zone A while the southwest quadrant may be Zone B. "It may be that simple," he said.

Other systems use geographic area with many other factors such as water hydrant location, proximity to the firedepartment station, the available mutual aid companies, staffing of stations, or the type of area or specific property use.

"The one that has the highest percentage of being manipulated by egos and such is the use of mutual aid," he said. "First, let me explain mutual aid versus automatic aid." In Ohio there is a system of mutual aid and automatic aid. Automatic aid calls on the closest available, appropriate units on the initial dispatch. Carney said, whether the run is in Columbus, New Albany, or most other suburbs, the initial dispatch calls for the necessary units. Mutual aid is generally called for when a firedepartment cannot send a truck and the dispatcher calls another department to assist. "This may seem trivial but it is at the heart of the situation in Newark and Newark Township," said Carney.

Suppose a person calls 911, he said. That call is routed to a law enforcement agency which then transfers the call to the appropriate dispatch center. The dispatcher then looks at the "run card," and dispatches the assigned units. In the case of a volunteer agency this means setting off a pager or other alert system to call the volunteers to the station or the address of the run, if they have equipment with them.

Based upon the run card or SOP, the dispatcher may page the run out for the volunteers as many times as the firechief deems appropriate before calling for the next department on the run card. The time between pages is based on different factors which usually allows for a crew of volunteers to respond from home to the station.

If no volunteers respond there may be a substantial delay in the caller receiving the requested help until another department is called. However, if that department is also volunteer, said Carney, the whole paging, waiting, paging scenario starts over again.

"The reasons for these decisions are often ego driven by firechiefs looking to protect their territory," he said. "I have yet to hear a truly logical explanation."

Carney explained that the firechiefs, and in some cases the firefighters, don't want another department to "beat them" or be "first in" on a run in their jurisdiction. "All friendly rivalries aside, that is not in the best interest of the public safety or the firefighterssafety," said Carney.

Departments that do not utilize mutual aid and automatic aid in the best practices and provide the public and firefighterswith the best service possible is inexcusable, he said. Whether it is a volunteer department failing to make use of an adjacent paid department, or a department that pages runs out repeatedly without calling for aid, or a paid department that does not call another closer paid department, the people who suffer are the citizens and the firefighterswho must wait for the help they need, said Carney.

Buckeye Lake area firechiefs, with the exception of Buckeye Lake, answered several questions about their departments and territories. All lake area firechiefs were asked to answer identical questions and given equal opportunity to do so:

*Which districts are adjacent to yours?

Basil Joint Fire District Chief Rob Cooley: Violet Township, Greenfield Township, Thurston Walnut, and Millersport.

Thornville/Thorn Township Fire Department Chief JD Postage: Glenford, Somerset, Licking Township, Millersport, Thurston, and Richland.

Licking Township Fire Company Chief Mike Wilson: Hebron, Buckeye Lake, Thornville, Glenford/ Hopewell, National Trail Fire Department, Newark City, Heath.

Hebron Fire Chief Randy Weekly: Licking Township, Buckeye Lake, Millersport, Granville, Newark City, Heath.

Millersport Fire Chief Bill Yates: Buckeye Lake, Hebron, Thornville, Pleasantville, Thurston, West Licking, Basil, Violet. May ask for assistance from Licking and Fairfield county HAZMAT teams and the FairfieldCounty Dive Team.

Thurston Fire Chief Jim Hite: Basil, Pleasantville, Millersport, Richland, and Thornville.

*What's the list of succession for assists (who's called first, second, etc.) for structure fires?

Cooley: We call the closest firedepartment to that particular location. We have a mutual aid engine automatically on all our structure fireassignments for our initial dispatch.

Postage: It depends on where the structure fireoccurs in the township.

Wilson: The surrounding firedepartments are called depending where the structure fireis located in our coverage area. We start three, sometimes four departments automatic--at the same time we get called--with us. We assume that all fires are working fires or could be by the time we arrive. Once the first unit arrives, we can call additional alarms or cancel equipment as needed. Remember, our first priority is always life safety, then to limit property damage or loss. I don't know the true numbers on this, but most fires always have heavy smoke and water damage. Many times where there is minor firedamage there are large dollar losses and the home may be torn down. So, we always want to save as much personal property for the family as we can. We use the same mutual aid responses on all types of emergencies where time is critical.

Weekly: It depends upon where the fire is. The Hebron firedistrict has four quadrants and whichever adjacent firedepartment is closest is called. The Hebron Fire district will also call for specialized equipment if needed.

Yates: We call for mutual aid from surrounding departments for every report of a structure fire. Our response are is divided into nine quadrants. There are 14 different types of runs--such as auto accident, medic run, structure fire, grass fireand others. The type of fireand the location determine the response. Plus, the Millersport district covers residences on islands in Buckeye Lake, requiring access to a fireboat.

Hite: Thurston equipment is called first, then the closest adjacent firedistrict to the fire.

*Are there any adjacent districts that are not called for assistance?

Cooley: We use all our surrounding departments.

Postage: No. Wilson: No. Weekly: Not hardly. If some- one else can be there quicker than we can, start them! Don't let boundary lines play in the part of people's lives or property. Conversely, Hebron is often called on assists because it has on-duty staff.

Yates: No! We call for more help and equipment than needed until the first due engine arrives on the scene and determines what equipment is needed to mitigate the emergency.

Hite: No.

*Are there any times when

your district is not able to

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provide emergency service and is solely dependent upon other districts for emergency services? If so, what are those times?

Cooley: The Basil Joint Fire District operates two medic units 24 hours a day. If there were simultaneous runs tying up both district firestations, a mutual aid medic is automatically dispatched to assist medical calls. In the case of a firecall we would dispatch our volunteer personnel along with mutual aid companies.

Postage: During the day it may be tough to assemble a volunteer crew. If that happens, we would call the closest mutual aid department.

Wilson: I cannot say no to this question because we are a volunteer and a paid department, and there can be times when no one is around to respond to the run, or we are out on two or three runs at the same time. Remember, even paid departments have limited staffing and have mutual assistance set up with other departments.

Weekly: Certainly. I guess all departments experience that. Other departments also depend on Hebron. There are times the whole county is running here and there for emergencies.

Yates: If we are taxed with multiple runs at the same time or just a lack of manpower. We currently have two part-time paid staff on station 24/7. Two personnel staff can't safely staff a firetruck. We rely on the volunteers to supplement the part-time staffing to make sure that the firetruck, along with additional equipment, gets out. If for some reason volunteers aren't available then mutual aid is a must. I know of no firedepartment (including big city departments) that can stand alone and take care of all types of emergency runs.

Hite: Thurston has a daytime crew from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and is all volunteer from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.

*How do you feel about the desire of some firechiefs to protect their territories and always arrive first on the scene? Jim Carney, legislative director of the Ohio Association of Professional Fire Fighters, said this can happen in some districts and likely contributed to recent problems between Newark and Newark Township.

Cooley: I can't speak for other firechiefs, but only to say that in our area of the county the closest firedepartments are requested, and I feel we work well together.

Postage: We do what's best for the residents and call the closest mutual aid department. We cannot worry about who will get there first, especially when we rely on each other for help from time to time.

Weekly: Fire departments who put their own personal preferences in front of others' lives and safety is wrong. Years and years ago it was a territorial thing, but I think that has changed. We all know each other. If we can help, we want to. The turf wars are over, hopefully. The number one priority is service to the people. People don't care what color the truck is. Cooperation is the biggest thing and I think it's there.

Wilson: There's no place for it!

Yates: Protection of the primary response area is the chief's responsibility. That responsibility is met by using all available resources to the best advantage of the public's needs, at the time and location of that need, including a fire truck from another department that can be "first" on the scene.

Hite: Pass.

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