BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — When Dean Yakumithis had a heart attack a few years ago, his wife called 911.
“Before she had even hung up the phone, I could hear the sirens,” said Yakumithis, turning toward Monclova Township Fire Chief Kevin Bernhard and Assistant Chief Matt Homek. “Thank you.”
Yakumithis was one 12 township residents to address the board of trustees during a July 18 discussion about fire service.
Trustees Chuck Hoecherl, Barbara Lang and Trudy Vicary have called the fire department “in crisis” because of times when not enough qualified personnel were on duty.
On July 15, the township shared 60 pages of documents outlining that information, along with email correspondence and Bernhard’s proposal for improvements, on the website at www.monclovatwp.org.
In 2021, the department responded to 1,757 calls for service and is on track to respond to over 1,800 this year. The station is staffed 24 hours a day by 47 part-time firefighters who work scheduled shifts. The three officers – Bernhard, Homek and new fire prevention officer Scott Bockelman – are the only full-timers.
Monclova switched to a part-time model from a volunteer department in 2012, in order to provide overnight coverage as the number of volunteers dwindled. Now, many part-time members are working one or two other jobs, and with starting wages on the lower end, filling shifts and positions is at times a challenge. The market is more competitive and some would rather find a full-time position. It’s a national problem, Bernhard said.
“Turnover isn’t uncommon with the part-time model,” he added.
Bernhard proposes adding six full-time positions to ensure that two are on duty for each shift. Part-time members would round out the shift so that four personnel are always on duty. With wages of around $58,000 plus benefits, the total cost would be about $107,000 per full-time firefighter.
“We are prepared to do what is necessary to bring on staffing,” Bernhard said. “We just need your OK.”
Trustees did not provide that assurance, but instead asked fiscal officer Gavin Pike to outline another option: shared services with Springfield Township. Pike said he consulted with Springfield Township Fire Chief Barry Cousino in June, as he sought information on possible costs for a full-time department while preparing the annual budget. Cousino’s proposal shows how sharing services could result in shorter response times to 50 percent of the township and would also reduce costs. While trustees sent out a request for proposals to other area fire departments, Springfield’s was the only response.
“Consolidation is the way of the future if you look at the 911 consolidation,” Pike said, referring to the county’s combined dispatching that is now in effect.
Resident David Borer disagreed.
“With consolidation, you’re turning your department over to someone else,” Borer said. “You’re relinquishing control. We have capable people working on the problem.”
Liz Uhlik agreed with Borer, noting that Monclova Township is a unique community and needs its own fire department.
“The firemen and police officers are the heroes of our community. If we lose them, we lose part of our identity,” she said.
Tim Geis voiced appreciation to the trustees and Pike for their due diligence.
“I know you guys have taken a lot of incoming missiles,” Geis said. “It’s helped us start the conversation and it’s brought all of us here to get involved. Let’s take advantage of that. Because ultimately, we don’t care what you guys want, we care what we want. If I’m dying, pick me up. Pick up my leaves. The rest of the time, just leave me alone.”
While trustees made no decision about the direction of personnel for the fire department, they did take a final step in approving a fire levy for the November ballot. A 2.3-mill levy with a 1.47-mill increase will raise $2,055,315 to meet the needs of the township’s nearly 15,000 residents.
Currently, residents pay about $81.05 per $100,000 in value. With the new levy, that will increase to approximately $154 per $100,000 in value.
Discussion of the topic is expected to continue during the Monday, August 1 meeting.
During the meeting, trustees also:
• Heard zoning administrator Eric Wagner say that the township had zero new housing starts in June, the first time he’s seen that phenomenon during his more than 15 years with the township.
• Learned that Willoughby Supply at 6519 Monclova Rd. is closed and that the building is being remodeled for a pool supply company.
• Approved hiring part-time firefighter/EMT Scott May, an Air Force veteran and son of Capt. Greg May. Trustees asked Bernhard to ensure that the younger May is not assigned to shifts that would require him to report to his father.
• Heard that Lucas County sanitary engineer Jim Shaw and a representative from the health department will be at the Monday, August 15 meeting to talk about a sanitary sewer line proposed for Monclova Road. Letters were sent to 43 affected property owners to advise them of the proposal and the meeting.
• Agreed to take over maintenance of the landscaping at the roundabout at Albon and Salisbury roads and discussed overall roundabout maintenance responsibilities, which currently are that of the county. Residents have complained about weeds.
• Finalized steps to place a 1.7-mill levy on the ballot for police protection, to raise $872,038 a year to cover the contract with the Lucas County Sheriff’s Office. The levy will cost approximately $42.25 per $100,000 in value – up from $35.24 per $100,000.