Liberty, Taylor, and York Townships of Union County collaborate to address challenges facing today’s fire and emergency medical services.
The Raymond Volunteer Fire Department was established in 1947 by Fire Chief Virgil Poling. Liberty Township Trustees charged Chief Poling with the task of finding a fire truck for purchase and to enlist willful members of the community to join the department. An increase of fires in Liberty, Taylor, and York Townships required new measures to replace the old bucket brigade. Hence, what is now known as Liberty Township Fire Department, Station 291 was born.
After humble beginnings, Liberty Township Fire Department flourished and grew over the decades. The 1980’s brought the addition of Emergency Medical Services to the station with the purchase of a used emergency squad. Also, during this era, an expansion of the fire house was constructed to accommodate new and larger engines.
By the late 1990’s volunteer availability began to diminish, especially during weekday work hours. The volunteer labor force that was once 22 members strong, diminished to just 6 individuals by 2014. Minimum standards created by the State of Ohio for training and preparedness requires the commitment of many hours for personnel. This has proved to be an obstacle for volunteer members who have careers of their own and is one of the reasons for a reduction in the force. The combination of fewer available volunteers and increased service demands upon the station led to 24 hour per day staffing in 2002. This was achieved with the use of part time personnel and that practice continues today. Most of the staff have full time employment at other stations and pick up extra hours at Liberty Township Fire Department. Operating fire and EMS services with a strictly part time crew is a daunting task. Personnel whose first priorities are their fulltime positions elsewhere, makes hours at Station 291 seem like second fiddle. Each week, some hours at the station go unfilled despite lengthy efforts by Fire Chief Lloyd Segner to fully staff each shift. Our first responders are invaluable and dedicated, but like all of us, they have families and commitments away from work and cannot be expected to be on duty at a fire station 24/7. The obvious solution to this challenge is to offer full time positions. This will attract talent and allow Station 291 to be first priority for some of the personnel. By having a few fulltime employees in the rotation, along with part time personnel, shifts will be fully staffed and many organizational benefits within the operation will occur. Taking the leap into hiring full time staff requires a solid vision for the future and a long-term commitment by all parties involved. It is believed by the Trustees of Liberty, Taylor, and York Townships that the creation of a Joint Fire District will significantly assist in meeting these needs.
Ohio Revised Code 505.371 states that the boards of township trustees of one or more townships may, by adoption of a joint resolution by the majority of the members of each board of township trustees, create a fire district comprising of all or any portions of the townships as are mutually agreed upon. This collaborative effort between Liberty, Taylor, and York Townships represents a commitment to the future by pooling resources and providing improved stability to Station 291 moving forward.
ORC 505.371 also states, A joint fire district so created shall be given a name different from the name of any participating township. This new entity has been named Northwestern Joint Fire District and will serve all of Taylor, Liberty, and a portion of York Township. The eastern one third of York receives fire protection from the Northern Union County Joint Fire and EMS District which will continue providing services in its existing area. Northwestern Joint Fire District will provide service to all areas of York Township that are west of State Route 31.
Historically, Taylor and York Townships have received fire and EMS service through contracting with Liberty Township Fire Department. Every five years, new contracts would need to be agreed upon to continue service. The fire levies passed by the residents of each township produce the revenue by which the townships pay for service. The creation of the Northwestern Joint Fire District will alleviate the uncertainty that surrounds the revolving door of contract renewals. Upon formation, the new district is already funded by the existing levies currently in place within each township. Future fire levies will be district wide, replacing the current fire levies at the township level.
The governing body of the Northwestern Joint Fire District (NJFD) will consist of three board members, one trustee from each participating township, in accordance with Ohio Revised Code. All three townships will be represented as the Fire District Board conducts administrative duties including expenditures, prioritizing community needs, and working with Fire and EMS personnel to provide them with all the necessary tools to effectively serve the public. York Township Trustee, Logan Rife explains “One of the biggest advantages to the district model is that instead of merely paying contracts, York Township now has a seat at the table to make important decisions that impact our residents.” Taylor Township Trustee, Beth Marshall adds “In many respects, residents really won’t see many changes from their vantage point. Our people will still receive the same excellent service from the same fire station, but now they will have a representative, one that they’ve already elected as Township Trustee, helping to run the business of fire and EMS.”
The idea of a district was first considered by Liberty Township and members of Station 291 nearly four years ago. The boards of surrounding townships were approached to determine if an interest in the formation of a district exists. After many months of research, conversations with existing fire districts, and consideration of benefits, this collaborative effort took shape in November of 2018 with Assistant Fire Chief Dave Thomas taking point on this initiative. Meetings were conducted with all interested townships and were broad in scope to establish a vision. Two working committees were formed as brainstorming and idea gathering paved the way for detailed initiatives to create a new government entity from the ground up. One of those committees included Fiscal Officers from each township to examine assets and funding. The other work committee consisted of one Township Trustee from each township. This group prepared materials and information to present at meetings that brought together all township officials for discussion. The Trustee Work Committee has met regularly in recent months as vision was transformed into action. Many hours have been spent with legal counsel to develop the resolution by which each township has adopted with a majority vote.
On February 19, a ceremony was held during a public meeting at the Liberty Township Community Center in Raymond. With all participating townships in attendance, the fire district resolution was signed, bringing Northwestern Joint Fire District into existence.
There will be a host of administrative tasks taking place in the coming months as the board prepares this new organization to take flight. One of the first priorities will be to appoint a fiscal officer and have that individual begin the process of building an accounting structure. Board members will consider the hiring of a new fire chief as the current chief of Station 291, Chief Segner, will be retiring later this year. Our goal is to have the Northwestern Joint Fire District in full operation by January 1, 2021.
Retired Allen Township Fire Chief, Rod Goddard explains “Station 291 is a vital piece of Union County’s fire and EMS service, assisting to make the county wide mutual aid system a reality.” Without the participation of all three townships, Station 291 would be unable to meet the needs of this community and surrounding areas. Liberty Township Trustee, Jerry McClary states, “Our fire department was established 72 years ago and has had a relationship with Taylor and York Townships from the beginning. The time has come to make it a partnership.”
Assistant Fire Chief Dave Thomas has been an integral factor in bringing this fire district to fruition. His determination to preserve Station 291 for the future is born out of more than a firemen’s duty or civic mindedness. Dave has a deep personal connection to the community. He grew up in the station as he is the grandson of the founder, Fire Chief Virgil Poling. Dave shares, “I believe Grandpa would say today, with the loss of volunteer manpower, a district guarantees long-term viability for the department. The county depends on the existence of all departments. Grandpa believed that there are no boundaries. We respond wherever needed.” Northwestern Joint Fire District will do just that.