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Toledo, Ohio & Lake Erie

The Press Newspaper

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        Oregon officials last week expressed concerns about the fire department’s ability to respond to emergency calls in a timely manner.

        “Recently, our city has experienced some increasing problems with our fire department/EMS call response time,” City Councilman Tim Zale said at a council meeting on Monday. Zale is chairman of the city’s Safety Committee.

        “I’ve been involved in talks with the city and the fire department administration over the past year,” Zale continued. “Many solutions have been suggested. Some of them were put in place to help us through this situation. But we are not necessarily where we want to be, in my opinion. I’ve always been proud of our city services. In fact, I ran for city council pledging to maintain and improve services from the level we were at in 2013. However, in the past year, I have found that we have been failing when it comes to providing the level of service that we have come to know from our fire and rescue department.”

        Zale said it is becoming difficult to get personnel to respond to 911 calls, which has “become a real problem.”

        “Many times, our dispatchers have had to tone out all stations in hopes of getting people to respond,” he said.

        The department now requires dispatchers to automatically tone out two fire stations in an effort to get more personnel to respond, he said.

        “To me, this signals that the problem is only getting worse. And this is very recent,” said Zale.

       

No response

        “Over the past few weeks, I was informed that there were at least 10 to 15 incidents where none or only one person from the originally toned out station showed up. This is far from acceptable,” said Zale.

        “Some figures I recently received also indicate that response times to the actual scene have fallen well below the standards we are accustomed to throughout the years,” he said.

        The figures came from a report from The Ohio Fire Chiefs Association, which conducted an analysis requested by the City of Oregon two years ago, according to Zale.

        “They determined that first responders arrived on the scene within eight minutes only 55 percent of the time for EMS calls, and only 43 percent of the time for fire calls. Per national standards, we should be arriving on the scene within eight minutes 90 percent of the time with the lowest acceptable standard being 70 percent. The report states we have fallen short of the standard. And things have only gotten worse, as demonstrated by the department’s memo this past week of having to tone out two stations automatically for calls,” said Zale

        He said he was not blaming the fire department administration or the members of the volunteer part-time fire department.

        “I believe we cannot continue to approach this potentially serious problem with a Band-Aid approach any longer. Our fire rescue department has served the city very well over the years with some very dedicated men and women. But it seems that our system is no longer sustainable in this mostly volunteer model we have in place right now. The world’s a changed place for us. Since the late ‘80s, we’re seeing that many fire departments across the country are having the same problems we’re having. We’re just continuing to kick the can down the road. I’m asking the city administration to provide some solid financial figures to begin the process of us considering a transition of our current system to provide round the clock coverage. This could include staffing with part-time people, additional full-time people, and a serious consideration of building two new fire stations that are up to standards that can house the personnel we need. If we man two fire stations 24/7, we can get by with two fire stations with a better response time than we have now,” said Zale.

        He would like to discuss the matter further at future Safety Committee meetings.

        “Once we have this financial data, I would like to start a series of safety committee meetings to discuss what we actually need, how we can afford it and how it will affect our city budget. Our citizens deserve better than what we provide now. I would hate to see us wait until we have a disaster,” said Zale.

        Mayor Mike Seferian said he is aware of the issue and that he has scheduled meetings with fire department officials.

        “We are going to try and address the problems,” said Seferian. “Some of the things you’re talking about would increase the budget for the fire department quite substantially. We would have to come into a new funding source if we were to go that way. That would mean levying monies from somewhere, whether it’s from an income tax or millage on the property taxes. We don’t want to give up on the idea of coming up with a situation to improve what we currently have. Our objective is to still find a way to exist and find a level of services we have been accustomed to. “

Aggressive recruiting

        The city could improve the department by manning more stations at different times of the day and by using different recruiting methods to “get people to the scene,” said Seferian.

        “We have increased the efforts to come up with a solution now, not just extend that to the future. We’re going to try and act on something that shows results in an expeditious manner,” said Seferian.

        “We need to do something today for tomorrow,” said Zale. I know we’re trying to do that. My concern is that in my heart, I think I know where we’re going in the future with this. And if we don’t move sooner than later, it will only cost us more money and put us in a position in which something may go wrong. I don’t have a lot of faith in us recruiting a lot of people. I wish we could. I hope we do. I have no problem with how we’ve handled things in the past with very dedicated people. But they just don’t seem to exist in the numbers that we need. From what I understand also, when they get a call, there might be a handful of people who show up at these calls and they’re always the same people, and they’re tired.”

        Councilman James Seaman said he’s noticed more aggressive recruiting in the fire department.

        “I’d like to see what that yields. That’s just recently. There are shortages across the country when it comes to part-time fire and EMS. People get more engaged with their families. They are working overtime in the jobs they already have. The economy is moving forward and there’s a lot of work, so it’s getting more difficult to fill these positions. But we need to do it immediately,” said Seaman.

        Councilwoman Sandy Bihn said she was unaware of the severity of the problem.

        “I had no idea the response times were getting worse. These are life-threatening situations. That report was done two years ago, and we still haven’t moved the bar on it. The statistics that were quoted I find frightening and scary. I think this is a four-alarm fire. I think we need to make some decisions. They’re never easy. It needs to happen as soon as possible,” said Bihn.

        Seferian said the city still has the Life Squad response, “and that is very good.”

        “We are lucky to have the life squad stationed here that can immediately go to a call,” said Zale. “But the call volume has gone up. If the Life Squad is tied up on something, and another call comes in that is similar to Life Squad’s call, this is where the problem comes in – there’s nobody to respond.”

       

       

               

       

       

       

       

       

 

 

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