2012-10-27 / News

Analysis: Mismanagement also endangers firefighters

By Charles Prince

BUCKEYE LAKE – Buckeye Lake Village residents and visitors are not the only ones endangered by the village’s dysfunctional fire department.

Last month, The Beacon sent Fire Chief Pete Leindecker a public records request for the department’s inspection records for its ladders, hoses, pumps and SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus) masks and regulators for the calendar years 2008 through 2012. Our request was prompted by seeing the routine approval at a Licking Township Trustees meeting of funds to inspect the Licking Fire Company’s ladders, hoses, pumps and SCBA equipment. Annual testing is required.

Fire service contacts told us to expect to find that the department’s SCBA equipment is tested annually. The reason, we were told, is due to gear’s supplier, Warren Fire Equipment, diligence in testing and certifying the equipment. That proved correct with the in-service SCBA gear tested and certified by Warren Fire Equipment most recently on Sept. 11, 2012. Annual inspections have been conducted by Warren Fire Equipment.

Likewise, the pumps on Engine 421 and Rescue 421 have been annually tested and serviced by McFarland B&M Parts and Service Inc. Both pumps were last tested on July 31, 2012.

It’s a different matter when you review the inspection records for hoses and ladders. The department has 30 hoses classified as supply lines and four listed as attack hoses. They were all last tested on March 22, 2011 – 19 months ago. Tests were also conducted on April 27, 2010, March 10, 2009 and August 21, 2007. No tests were done in 2008.

At best, a hose failure during a working fire gives the fire a chance to build back up while the hose is being replaced. Failure while firefighters are inside a burning structure puts them at risk of serious injury or death.

The department has seven ladders ranging in height from 10 feet to 35 feet. It has been nearly four years since any of these ladders have been tested. The last test date was Nov. 18, 2008. Failure of a ladder can lead to serious injury or death. It can also hamper efforts to rescue a trapped occupant or extinguish a fire.

The cost to annually test hoses and ladders is small – less than $2,000. There are ample funds in the village’s fire fund to do so. The cost of failing to annually test these key pieces of equipment can be very high – resulting in serious injury or the death of a firefighter or allowing a fire to build back up and/or spread to other structures.

Unfortunately, the failure to protect their fellow firefighters, both part-time paid and volunteers, is not surprising based on our now seven-month evaluation of the department’s emergency medical services. The causes are the same:

• The low expectations of the mayor and most council members. That failure was vividly illustrated at Monday night’s council meeting when Council President Charlene Hayden reported that she and council member Gerry Neff had been handing out the flyers promoting the fire levy. Those flyers make the completely false claim that the department “does an excellent job providing fire protection and Emergency Medical Services…”

Add to our list of failures last week, the failure to test ladders for nearly four years and hoses for 19 months. Two more pieces of evidence that the department performs very poorly.

Hayden then encourages the rest of council to match her rockbottom expectations by urging them to hand out the flyers in their neighborhoods.

• No accountability. This begins with the mayor, council president and most council members. The fire chief’s multiple violations of village rules are ignored. His poor performance is accepted.

In turn, the fire chief and the EMS coordinator then repeatedly fail to enforce any performance standards for the paid part-time staff. There is no penalty for failing to show up for a shift the worker selected themselves. Nor is there a penalty for showing up late or leaving early. The EMS coordinator himself was a “no show” for two of his three selfscheduled shifts in June.

The problem is so extensive that we created a specific “whenever” label for shifts where the self-scheduled part-time paid person shows up late or leaves early by more than an hour. For the six month period from April through September, “whenever” shifts averaged 16 per month or 17 percent of total shifts.

For example, last month a night shift EMT (8 p.m. to 8 a.m.) left 1:20 (one hour, 20 minutes) early. So no one was there when a breathing problem call came in at 7:05:23 a.m. Mutual aid from Millersport was dispatched 8:21 minutes AFTER Buckeye Lake was dispatched. Millersport arrived 15:23 after the original Buckeye Lake dispatch. The patient was deemed serious enough for transport. This is one of the calls NOT included in the department’s claim that its average response time is 5.2 minutes.

This incident happened a full month after our original report documenting the department’s poor performance. By that time, the department’s command and its part-time paid employees knew The Beacon was closely watching hours worked and response times, yet it still happened. That employee continues to work for the department.

Chief ignores key directive

Three weeks after our first report, Mayor Rick Baker issued a list of 17 “administrative directives” to Leindecker in a letter dated Sept. 6. The most significant directive was to “Send a letter to county to call for mutual aid after 3 minutes.”

Current protocol, according to Kevin Carver, Deputy Director of the Licking County 9-1-1 Center, is an initial tone and then a second tone three minutes later. If the department fails to respond three minutes after the second tone (six minutes after the first tone) then mutual aid is started. He told The Beacon, “If base clears traffic before six minutes then a request goes out to station at the six minute mark to see if they will be able to handle the run. If the answer is yes, then we wait till the eight minute mark. If no response at that point mutual aid is started.”

Baker’s directive would cut the maximum delay to start mutual aid from eight minutes to three minutes which could be the difference between survival or death for a heart attack or serious injury victim.

The Beacon has been checking every other week with Carver to see if Leindecker has done as directed. As of Oct. 24, Carver reported no change in Buckeye Lake’s dispatch protocol nor mentioned any pending request for a change.

It’s been 48 DAYS since the mayor directed Leindecker to tell the county to dispatch mutual aid after a three-minute wait instead of the current six-eight minute wait. It HAS NOT been done!

Why? There are a couple of explanations. First, Leindecker has a history of ignoring rules and he’s still chief. This too he believes he can ride out.

Secondly, Leindecker knows the change will increase mutual aid runs. Both he and the EMS coordinator are fixated on holding on to Buckeye Lake runs. Their first concern is Buckeye Lake runs, not Buckeye Lake residents or visitors needing medical help.

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