For years, the volunteer fire departments of Medina and Medina Township have operated almost side by side -- equal yet entirely separate.
Both did bang-up jobs battling the blazes that cropped up in their respective communities. But work together in anything more than a mutual-aid capacity? Hardly.
At least until now.
Tentatively set to kick off June 1 is an informal plan to partner the two departments -- a fire district, so to speak, without the legal ties that generally go along with creating such a district.
The goal is to improve service -- particularly by adding daytime staffing, the most difficult time to secure volunteers -- and to avoid the costly duplication of efforts by the individual departments.
''It's like living together before getting married,'' Medina Mayor Jane Leaver said. ''If it doesn't work, it doesn't work. There's no commitment.''
Don't let Leaver's comments mislead you: She's entirely behind the plan and has been since she broached the subject with the departments a couple of years ago.
And she's helped prod it along -- a not-always-easy effort that involves getting two strong departments to give up a bit of their individual identity for the greater good of the communities and for Montville Township, which pays the city to provide fire protection.
''It's been an exercise in patience,'' Leaver said. ''There's always been a line, and it's been, 'You stay on your side, and I'll stay on mine.' But I've made it clear that this was going to happen, and it was up to (fire officials) to decide how it was going to work.''
The effort, Leaver said, is not a first step toward annexation -- a concern she figures will crop up. She's absolutely against annexing more houses to become part of Medina.
Rather, it'll address the quirks of fire coverage in the area, such as the Medina Township housing development that sits a stone's throw from the Medina Fire Department and wouldn't be covered by the closest department should a fire break out.
''If I'm stuck on 71 just south of Route 18 in a car, I don't care if the truck that pulls up to help me get out says Medina Sanitary. I just want help,'' Leaver said.
A high point of the plan involves the departments each paying two people to work daily, eight-hour shifts -- something that neither has ever done. Those are tough time slots to find on-call volunteers, so it should speed response times.
Medina Township Trustee Dianna Huffman said that staffing helped sell her on the plan. Response times invariably will be faster, she said.
The trustees have not OK'd the plan yet, but Huffman said she doesn't anticipate any difficulties. The plan was presented to the Medina City Council earlier this week.
Both Medina Fire Chief William Herthneck and Medina Township Fire Chief Mark Crumley initially figured the staffing for an entire year would cost each about $100,000 more. However, that estimate was based on 12-hour shifts and a full year. This will be a half-year and eight-hour shifts.
They also point out that the ''volunteer'' label is a bit of a misnomer. As things stand now, ''volunteers'' are paid on an hourly rate when they are called into service.
Both Herthneck and Crumley said the entire departments of both communities have been involved in planning the joint operation.
Crumley said fire chiefs elsewhere -- including some that have gone through acrimonious mergers or fire district creations -- are watching with interest.
Herthneck said the long planning process has enabled both chiefs to alleviate any concerns that arose from within the departments, although he acknowledged there always will be some who won't buy into the change.
Late last year, the two departments even combined for a mixer of sorts -- a gathering for firefighters from both departments and their families.
''That gathering was a nice evening, and it showed everybody that we all put on our turnout gear the same way, and we all have the same desire to serve the communities,'' Herthneck said.''