BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — With increased call volume, limited staffing and no dedicated fire levy, Maumee Fire Division has been feeling the strain.
“We don’t have a choice but to support our system with a levy that will be used for only fire and EMS,” said Maumee Mayor Rich Carr.
Maumee City Council passed a resolution of necessity on January 17, asking the Lucas County Auditor to certify the total current tax valuation of the city and the dollar amount that would be generated by a 5.6-mill tax levy to fund fire and EMS services. If approved, the levy would cost a property owner $196 per year per $100,000, Maumee Finance Director Jennifer Harkey said.
Following council’s approval, the city will file with the Lucas County Board of Elections to put the levy on the May ballot.
The city does not have a levy for fire service or garbage pickup and hasn’t had an increase in taxes for 60 years, Carr said. The levy will ensure that ambulances can be upgraded and that the department has adequate staff to cover two to three runs at a time, he said.
Calls for service have increased at least 15 percent over the last three years, with EMS incidents accounting for at least 75 percent of those calls, according to Maumee Fire Chief Brandon Loboschefski. In 2022, Maumee was the third-busiest fire department in western Lucas County, with 2,561 incidents.
“When people pick up the phone and call 911, they want someone to come help. We’ve been able to do that, but we’ve been very challenged to respond to all of our calls without asking for help from our neighbors,” Loboschefski said. “That’s why a levy is so important – so that we can maintain and sustain our staffing. It’s not slowing down. The longer we wait, the worse the problem becomes.”
Several factors are at play beyond the increased call volume, most importantly the staffing model, which has remained unchanged for 20 years. EMS calls are handled by limited full-time shifts and heavily assisted with coverage using overtime to provide at least one paramedic on duty, but these shifts don’t provide 24-hour coverage, the fire chief said. Paid-on-call personnel – those who respond from outside the station – supplement that staffing, but like many fire departments across the country, the numbers of paid-on-call staff have shrunk due to family and work obligations limiting their availability.
The full-time officers, including Loboschefski, Deputy Chiefs James Dusseau and Mike Potter, and fire safety inspector Lance Tunison, work 24-hour shifts every four days to ensure at least one responder is available.
Limited staffing equals an increase in response times to fires, accidents and alarms as well as delays in patient care.
“With decreases in responding personnel and increases in response times, the MFD is currently unable to meet minimum national standards for staffing and deployment,” Loboschefski said.
Maumee has become increasingly reliant on mutual aid agreements with other area departments to answer calls, asking for help three times more often than providing it to those communities, he said.
One reason other area departments are better staffed is because they utilize a full-time staffing model to ensure that someone is on duty in the station, ready to respond, at all times. Even departments that serve smaller populations, like Waterville, Whitehouse and Monclova Township, have moved to this full-time staffing model.
While Maumee’s population is just under Monclova Township’s, at around 14,000, during the day it grows to 30,000 because of the many businesses based in the city, and Maumee Fire Division needs to be able to respond to those calls, Loboschefski said.
Additional revenue will allow the fire division to retain full-time positions and create new part-time positions to ensure that the station is staffed 24 hours a day with personnel who are trained and ready to respond, he said. This will reduce the response times and improve service.
He also wants to cross-train all personnel so that firefighters, paramedics and EMTs can respond to any type of incident.
“As the city grows, the fire department has to grow. The service demands are increasing, and we have to staff for that,” Loboschefski said. “Citizens and businesses will all benefit from faster response times, more efficient service and better community risk reduction.”
One of the factors yet to be worked out is how current discussions with the county about Life Squad will impact funding and staffing. The full-time paramedics who staff the Lucas County Life Squad No. 7 – which provides advanced life support for not just Maumee but also areas of Toledo and surrounding townships – are based in the Maumee station. The city currently receives $804,000 a year from the county, which provides the vehicles, protocols and training. Over the years, the cost to operate Life Squad has grown to $1.6 million, Carr said, far exceeding what the county pays. Now, the county is looking at getting out of the EMS business and turning it over to the communities that house Life Squads. (See related article on page 3.)
While discussions are ongoing, Carr and Maumee administrator Patrick Burtch believe that the county plans to offer just $400,000 a year to start and to possibly phase those funds out within five years.
“It’s very clear. If we look out five years, is the funding going to be there? Not likely,” Burtch said.
The likelihood of that loss was the last straw in making a decision on whether to put a levy on the ballot or not, Harkey said.
As she looked at some Maumee properties listed on AREIS, the auditor’s database, she noted that on one property, just $88.00 a year comes to the city out of property taxes paid – but it costs $160.00 a year to collect garbage alone. Having a dedicated levy to ensure that fire and EMS services can meet the city’s needs just makes sense, she said.
Loboschefski said there may be a committee formed to promote the levy, and he’s assembled a fact sheet to share with residents.
“We want to be as honest and transparent as possible with the community – it’s their service. We have the trust of the community, which has supported us over the years. I believe they will continue to do so,” Loboschefski said.