BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — Climbing smokestacks, checking blueprints and poking around HVAC units are all part of a day’s work for Scott Bockelman.
As the new fire prevention officer for Monclova Township Fire and Rescue, Bockelman is in charge of inspecting the township’s 300 businesses, schools, daycare operations and residences that house adopted and fostered children. He also looks at large outdoor tents used for graduation parties and events, reviews plans for hydrants and access in new subdivisions, and leads the township’s investigation after a fire occurs.
Bockelman, a Henry County native, has been a part-time firefighter with Monclova Township for five years and a member of the Napoleon Fire Department since 2004.
“All I’ve ever known is public service. The day I graduated from high school was my first day on the fire department,” said Bockel-man, who earned his fire and EMT certification at Four County Career Center before graduating from Napoleon High School in 2003.
It was an incident when he was 12 years old that inspired Bockelman to be the first in his family to join the fire and rescue service: After being clipped by a semi on a country road, his uncle was pinned under a tractor for three hours. During that time, a firefighter/paramedic lay on the ground next to him, providing care and reassurance while a team worked on extrication. His uncle lived to tell the story.
“That incident was the driving force behind my decision to do this,” Bockelman said.
During his 16 years with the Napoleon department, Bockelman gained a wealth of experience as an advanced EMT and firefighter and a hazmat technician, eventually serving as lieutenant, inspector, instructor and director of special teams. As a part-time member of the Monclova department for five years, he’s served as a firefighter, lieutenant and captain, as well as training instructor.
Bockelman was one of six candidates – four of whom had the required experience – for the role vacated by retired Deputy Chief Michael George, said Fire Chief Kevin Bernhard.
In addition to his fire inspection certification, Bockelman is a certified fire and explosion investigator, which will aid the township in finding the cause and origin of each fire – which he uses in conjunction with his role in education and prevention.
“He’s got a lot of catching up to do on the inspections,” Bernhard said, explaining that between COVID-19 shutdowns and George’s light duty during the last year, not all annual inspections were done.
“We’re thinking that in the next 12 to 18 months, we can be back on a normal schedule and visit each place annually,” Bernhard said.
To do this, Bockelman is utilizing a technique used in Napoleon: dividing the township into four quadrants and spending three months in each area. This cuts down on travel time across the township.
For now, Bockelman is doing inspections without advance warning, but next year he’ll give property owners a self-check guide so they can complete needed repairs before he arrives.
“The self-check will allow them to be better prepared and should speed up my inspections as they should have their own mitigation in place,” he said. “It’s about working with the business: Our first priority is to educate and work to mitigate.”
What does he look for? Properly functioning fire suppression systems, well-identified and clear egresses in and out of the building, electrical hazards such as extension cords, exit lights that are working and storage around electrical and heating systems. In larger companies, such as Johns Manville, he climbs the towers to make sure the fire suppression systems are in working order. The process can take anywhere from 15 minutes to two days, depending on the size of the building.
The fixes can range from $30.00 for a new exit sign battery to thousands of dollars for an extensive fire suppression system.
“We understand that it can be a financial burden, but if a fire occurs and the suppression system doesn’t activate or work correctly, that could make a difference in saving someone’s life,” Bockelman said. “No one wants to see someone get hurt or lose millions of dollars in a structure or equipment.”
He works with businesses to make sure they cooperate in a timely fashion; but if not, he can shut down a business, according to the Ohio Administrative Code.
“We have a game plan to get rid of hazards that could cause an issue to the business or community,” he said. “I feel that if we work together, we can get it resolved.”
In addition to businesses and restaurants, Bockelman inspects the township’s four nursing homes as well as tents. Any tent that’s over 400 square feet with sides or 700 square feet without sides needs to be inspected. He also joins the chief, zoning administrator and county in reviewing site plans for new subdivisions to make sure the streets are properly laid out for emergency vehicles and that the fire hydrants are the proper size and distribution.
“I look at a lot of blueprints through the week,” he said. “For a township that’s rapidly growing, we’re planning out farther to make sure we’re safe now and into the future.”
Future kindergartners will get lessons in safety from Bockelman beginning next year. After a three-year hiatus, he’ll be bringing back Safety Township in 2023, with some changes to the weeklong program for incoming kindergartners.