Northwood is planning to advertise, recruit and train members for the volunteer fire department, which is currently understaffed.
Mayor Mark Stoner last week lifted a hiring freeze to allow Fire Chief Tim Romstadt to recruit more fire fighters. Administrator Dennis Recker said the city has seen a reduction in the number of volunteers in the fire department in the last few years.
“Our strength has been somewhat in a downward decline since 2007,” said Recker. There are about 30 fire fighters in the fire department, a far cry from the 50 it once had.
“We’re going to recruit and train to try and keep our strength about where it is right now, and move it to about 40 positions in total,” said Recker. “We’ll try and find people who are cut out for that kind of thing and are dedicated to that service. They’ll go through an initial firefighter’s course, followed by EMT and paramedic training. So this will be something we’ll be doing incrementally for the next several years to kind of get back to where we were, and then of course, recruit periodically to replace retirements and resignations.”
Recker said it is becoming more difficult for the city to recruit volunteers.
“I don’t think this is unique when you look at volunteer firefighters and volunteer organizations across the board,” he said. “There seems to be more people who are involved in so many competing activities these days. It’s become very difficult to find people who have the time to be reliable in providing support to volunteer organizations. It’s not as easy as it once was to attract and retain contributing volunteers.”
In addition, many people are spending more time at their jobs as a result of a struggling economy, leaving less time to spend on volunteering, he said.
“That all eats into their availability to be reliable. Even though it’s a volunteer fire fighter force, we have to be able to guarantee that 911 emergencies will be met with dedicated resources,” he said.
City council at a March 24 meeting considered spending up to $20,000 from its Redflex fund for fire fighter, EMT and paramedic training, but there was a discussion over whether it was a decision for council or the administration to make. The city contracts with Redflex Safety Solutions, of Arizona, to provide stationary speed and red light photo enforcement cameras that are installed at the intersections of Lemoyne and Woodville roads and Oregon and Wales roads since 2005. Revenue from traffic citations at those intersections goes into a fund that is earmarked for safety improvements.
Stoner said he prefers that council pass an ordinance regarding the use of Redflex funds.
“Council is so protective of Redflex funds,” said Stoner after the meeting. “We have an ordinance whenever we do a fund to fund transfer. So I wanted to get an ordinance. This way, it’ll be on the public record.”
Stoner said he doesn’t think the city will ever need a full-time fire department, despite the difficulty in recruiting volunteers. The city has looked at opening up recruitment to non residents who live at the city limits.
“We would have to do a study to see if they could respond in a timely manner,” he said.
“Right now, we are a volunteer organization. They have other duties and responsibilities to take care of. They all might not be able to respond to every call. We need more people so that there’s enough people to respond,” he said. “We need people who are going to tough it out, and they have to be willing to serve.”
Some volunteers are so dedicated, he said, their service spans generations within families.
“It’s in their blood. They are serving the community,” he said.
Though they are volunteers, they are compensated.
“There are different levels of pay. You’re not going to get rich, but it’s a nice way to supplement your income,” said Stoner.
He doubted residents would support a full time fire department, since it would require passage of a levy to fund it.
“Voters rejected an income tax increase last year. If we went to a full-time fire department, it would be very costly,” said Stoner.