Analysis: Fact-checking the Buckeye Lake fire renewal levy brochure
BUCKEYE LAKE – A profire levy renewal brochure is now being distributed in Buckeye Lake Village.
This audacious attempt by a few members of the Buckeye Lake Firefighters Association to rewrite recent history cannot go unchallenged. Media outlets across the country are “factchecking” political ads and campaign statements. Fact-checking in this instance is particularly important since it involves an issue that directly affects the health of every resident and visitor.
We will list key statements word-for-word from the brochure and then address each individually. Our focus is on emergency medical services.
1. “Your Fire Department does an excellent job providing fire protection and Emergency Medical Services to your community.” This claim is off the wrong end of whatever scale used to measure accuracy or truthfulness. Dictionary.com defines “excellent” as “possessing outstanding quality or superior merit; remarkably good.” No sane or sober person can honestly use any of those words to describe Buckeye Lake Village’s emergency medical services.
Here are the ugly facts based on 9-1-1 Center run reports and our now seven-month (March thru September) PAID personnel database which is based on BLFD’s monthly schedules for PAID personnel and their biweekly timecards:
• An average of 16.1 shifts per month (17.6 percent of total) were unscheduled. September was slightly better at 15 shifts. That is NOT “outstanding quality.”
• An average of 21.86 shifts per month (23.8 percent of the total) were not filled. “No shows” push this number higher than “unscheduled.” There was substantial improvement here in September. Unfilled shifts dropped from 30 in August to 10 (11 percent of the total) in September. From early April through our first report (August 15), seven people were on the PAID roster. Four additional ones have since been added to the PAID roster, a 57 percent increase. More people make it easier to fill shifts. A competent fire chief would have added to the roster in April or May, not waiting until the local newspaper documents the serious gaps in staffing. An “excellent” department would have ALL shifts filled EVERY month. Averaging almost 25 percent unfilled shifts over the past seven months is a very poor record.
• A key measure of quality is the number of shifts with a paramedic on duty. A paramedic is critical, particularly for cardiac and serious injury calls. Buckeye Lake struggles to have two EMT-Basics respond to calls for help. An EMT-Basic can NOT interpret a cardiac monitor strip, perform manual defibrillation, administer cardiac medication, do a cardioversion, start an IV or perform carotid massage. These now common procedures have saved the lives of countless heart attack victims BUT can only be done by a paramedic. On average, paramedics have been on 20.7 shifts (22.6 percent of the total) per month. The September total was 23 shifts, up two from August, but still less than the 24 shifts in March. One of the four new PAID personnel is a paramedic, but that addition has had very little impact. An “excellent” department would have a paramedic on duty 24/7. Both Hebron and Millersport meet that standard. Again, Buckeye Lake’s performance is poor.
Conclusion: It’s hard to come up with the appropriate adjective. Perhaps SUPER WHOPPER comes closest.
2. “You are receiving excellent service for the value of your tax dollars. You can’t get that by contracting with somebody else. Our average response time is 5.2 minutes.” We’ve addressed the “excellent” claim. Buckeye Lake Village taxpayers are paying five mills for fire/EMS services. That’s considerably more than the 3.3 mills that Union Township residents living in the unincorporated areas pay. They are served by the Hebron and Granville Township fire departments that have earned excellent reputations. Buckeye Lake’s five mills are slightly less than the six mills paid by Hebron and Millersport/Walnut Township taxpayers. Buckeye Lake Village taxpayers are NOT getting their money’s worth compared to their neighbors.
There is no basis in fact for the claim “you can’t get that by contracting with somebody else.” Hebron’s fire station is one mile from Buckeye Lake’s. It is staffed 24/7 and often has several paramedics on duty. Hebron responded with FOUR paramedics to the Dockside Drive tragedy; NO ONE from BLFD responded to that scene. Thanks to their fiscal mismanagement, Union Township Trustees are proposing to reduce their annual payment to Hebron for fire/ EMS services next year by approximately $200,000. A contract with Hebron for IMMEDIATE EMS service (no waiting for a mutual aid dispatch) would be a win-win for both Buckeye Lake Village and Hebron residents. A contract would provide much better service and cannot be rejected without any discussions.
The response time on the 33 runs that Buckeye Lake han- dled by itself in September was 5:12 (five minutes, 12 seconds). However, mutual assistance was requested for nine runs or 21.4 percent of the calls for medical help. The average elapsed time to just REQUEST mutual aid in September was 9:25. The average elapsed time (from Buckeye Lake’s initial 9-1-1 Center dispatch) to the ARRIVAL of that aid was 17:47.
An “OK” 5:12 average for a very compact village suddenly becomes nearly 8 minutes (7:50) on average when mutual aid runs are included in the calculation. Actual performance is much worse than the average, since mutual aid (17:47 average response time) is typically requested on the most critical calls. There’s no other way to characterize claiming a 5.2 response time while ignoring mutual aid response times - IT’S A LIE!
Conclusion: SUPER WHOPPER will have to do.
3. “To have 24 hour coverage would cost $190,000.00 per year which is 90% of our budget and not attainable without additional funds.” Twenty-four hour coverage is already authorized, though the money spent for one person from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. is basically wasted since timely response requires that at least a volunteer EMT-Basic respond. If the current schedule is fully staffed, it would cost about $125,000 a year depending on the number of paramedic shifts. Payments for PAID staff totaled $104,772 in 2011 but that is likely based on about 80 percent of the shifts being filled. Real 24/7 coverage where an on-station crew immediately responds to calls for help is likely available for $175,000 - $200,000 via a contract with either Hebron or Millersport. The $30,000 to $55,000 leftover should be sufficient for a strictly volunteer fire department responding only to fire calls. Unlike critical calls for medical help, the very infrequent structure fire calls have multiple fire departments immediately responding.
4. “We are not asking for any additional funds, only to maintain the current levy amount. We are currently operating without asking the village for money from the general operating fund.”
Conclusion: Both statements are accurate.
5. “Without your continuing support: 1. There will not be any fire or EMS protection in our Village; 2. Your department’s ISO rating will increase which will, in turn, most likely increase your homeowner’s insurance premiums.” This is a blatant attempt to scare voters into approving the levy renewal. If voters, as we strongly recommend, reject the renewal next month, Buckeye Lake has TWO more opportunities (May and November 2013) to approve it before it affects the collection of ONE CENT of fire levy taxes. Buckeye Lake Village will receive approximately $228,000 from the CURRENT fire levy next year no matter how the vote goes next month.
Likewise, it will have NO effect on the village’s ISO rating or your homeowner’s insurance premiums.
The real risk is approving the renewal next month without major changes in how your money is being spent. The very slight improvements seen in September are driven by the fear that taxpayers may cut off their money. Approval in November is good for another five years, giving the current clique four plus years to do as they please with your money. Five-year levies can NOT be repealed. A rejection next month sends a strong message to village officials that voters expect major changes and better service. If they still don’t understand that message by May, maybe they will wake up by November 2013.
Conclusion: Another SUPER WHOPPER!
6. “Achieved an ISO rating class of 6...” Claiming credit for the improved ISO rating is another WHOPPER. Our rating improved because the village installed its first-ever public water system. Simply put, no public water system then no rating improvement. The fire department did have to do some work - primarily paperwork - and took months to do it.
In summary, the authors – most likely Dave and Crickett Ruton with help from Toby and Missy Miller and Fire Chief Pete Leindecker’s approval – are either delusional or willing to say anything to keep taxpayers’ money flowing to their little empire. We suspect it’s mostly the latter, but whatever the reason, all of them have forfeited the trust placed in them to use our taxes wisely for emergency medical services.