Ohio City Considers Beefing Up Fire Department

Nov. 02--Northwood City Council is considering beefing up its fire services next year so emergency responders would be on staff 24/7. City officials say the change would lower the response time and eliminate gaps in coverage.

"It's going to be safer for our residents -- bottom line," said Mayor Mark Stoner during a meeting on Thursday. "This is going to be a big step forward for the whole department."

But other City Council members said they are concerned about the $139,222 annual expense, especially if the economy worsens and the city's revenues drop.

"I know this is important, but you're talking about a lot of money," Councilman Dean Edwards said. "To solve a problem, you don't always toss money at it."

The additional fire funding is expected to be brought up at the council's Nov. 10 meeting as the board deliberates on the 2012 budget.

The issue of fire staffing heightened following the death of a 67-year-old Northwood man March 5 after his wife allegedly called 911 three times in 22 minutes, waiting for emergency personnel to arrive. The widow, Ellen Jean Mix, filed a lawsuit in September in Wood County Commons Pleas Court against city officials and is seeking more than $25,000 in damages.

Under fire Chief Joel Whitmore's proposal, two first-responders in the ambulance would be on staff 24/7 at one of the city's two fire stations. Currently, those two positions, which pay $12 an hour, are filled Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The city would fill the full-time positions from the current staff of 38 volunteer firefighters.

Right now, the average emergency response time in the city ranges from 8.4 to 13.3 minutes, according to Chief Whitmore's report.

But if the city was staffed full time, response times should be 4 to 5 minutes, with a maximum of 8 minutes, the chief said during the public safety committee meeting.

Northwood City Administrator Dennis Recker said the proposal calls for one of the positions to be an emergency medical technician who could provide basic life support. The second position would either be filled by another EMT or, a third of the time, would be a paramedic who could administer drugs and give more advanced treatment than an EMT.

"It's as good as it gets with a paramedic," Mr. Recker said.

Chief Whitmore is expected to present his recommendation to the council on Nov. 10.

The council is expected to approve its spending plan for next year on Dec. 15. The proposed $4.45 million budget does not cut any programs, lay off employees, or raise fees and taxes for Northwood residents, said city finance director Toby Schroyer.

The budget sets spending at 4 percent more than the 2011 budget, largely because of Chief Whitmore's request for more fire department staffing, the finance director said.

Mr. Recker said the city had not begun negotiations for union employees. He would not say what the proposed salary increase will be for nonunion employees next year.

Copyright 2011 - The Blade, Toledo, Ohio