The Press Newspaper
For new Northwood Fire Chief Joel Whitmore, becoming a firefighter, much less a fire chief, has been a lifelong dream come true.
“It was always something I wanted to do, even as a kid,” Whitmore said. “I just always thought it would be cool to be a fireman. I joined the fire department when I graduated from Northwood High School in 1988.”
Whitmore said the realities of the job, so far, have met his expectations.
“I have enjoyed every minute of it,” he said. “I really like the excitement of the job and helping people. We, firefighters, do the best we can for people on their worst day.”
Whitmore has been involved with firefighting and emergency medical services since high school.
He was named assistant fire chief for the city of Perrysburg in 1994, where he currently serves full-time. Until his appointment as Northwood chief in August, Whitmore had also been employed as a transport paramedic with Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center's Life Flight since 2002.
“Being a Life Flight paramedic was a job I really loved,” he said. “I just had to give that job up because I cannot do three jobs and have a family life.”
Whitmore has had to hit the ground running since becoming fire chief.
Last year, the fire department and the city came under fire after Tim Mix, of Parc Rue, had to wait 28 minutes for the fire department to arrive on the morning of March 3.
As first reported in The Press, Mix had stopped breathing after his wife, Ellen, called 9-1-1 three times that morning. Northwood eventually dispatched an Advanced Life Support (ALS) rescue squad from Lake Township, which has a mutual aid agreement with Northwood, to the Mix home He later died in Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center due to brain damage as a result of a lack of oxygen, according to his widow, who has filed a lawsuit against city officials.
As a result of the Mix incident, the city reinstated two firefighter/EMTs to provide Basic Life Support (BLS) from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., a shift that had been cut due to the economy. Northwood also began actively seeking new recruits for the fire department, which had also been previously cut.
Northwood Mayor Mark Stoner proposed a 24/7 ALS service last fall. Council gave tepid support for the 24/7 ALS service, deeming it too expensive, and instead approved a 24/7 BLS service in November.
Whitmore is hoping the department will now grow and that morale will be restored.
“We really took a beating over the last year on a number of things,” Whitmore said. “The morale in the department was very low. The guys are very proud of what they do. When something like that happens, well, it just hurts the guys.”
Whitmore said he worked hard to get the BLS proposal passed.
“We are working hard to get through the kinks, but so far it has worked out great,” he said. “Now, with the 24/7 EMS coverage, we can see a light at the end of tunnel. Things are getting better. The budget crunch the city had is now something we are starting to come out of.”
The department and residents are already seeing benefits from the new 24/7 coverage, Whitmore said.
“Our response times have improved,” he said. “The combined response times between Station 1 and Station 2 are now 5.7 minutes. Prior, the average response time, depending on the district, was eight to 10 minutes. Our goal is to get our response times down to between four and five minutes.”
The department has also purchased a used 2007 ambulance from a fire department in Cincinnati, which will replace the department’s 1993 ambulance.
Whitmore said Northwood currently has 39 firefighters, with 11 paramedics. The department has three female paramedics. Two members of the department will start their paramedic training this year.
“We are very involved in getting our ranks up,” he said. “We have a few applications pending and we are still taking applications.”
Getting the department more involved with the community is also a goal for which Whitman is reaching.
“I want us to have a lot more community involvement,” he said. “I would like to establish a community based CPR training program and hold classes for citizens. I also want to get into the schools and do CPR classes for the students. It would be a great program for those students who baby sit or have younger brothers and sisters.”
Whitmore said he is also planning on becoming more involved with Rossford’s Explorer Program, integrating more Northwood students into the program.
Whitmore’s “go get ‘em” attitude, according to Stoner, is what put him into the forefront of applicants for the position.
“I have known Joel a long time and he was in the running for the position before,” Stoner said. “I thought he would do a good job. He is very professional, but he has a sense of humor as well. You can depend on him. If you ask him to do something, he is going to get it done. He is a real go-getter.”
Whitmore is engaged to Julie Goins, also of Northwood. The couple has five children between them: Brittany Whitmore, who is studying at the University of Cincinnati to become a paralegal; Sean Whitmore, an 8th grade student in Northwood; Carly Goins a senior in Northwood; Ben Goins, a 7th grade student in Northwood; and Megan Goins, a 6th grade student at Northwood Elementary School.
Given what he knows about the profession, Whitmore said he would encourage any one of his children if they wanted to follow in his footsteps.
“I think it is a noble profession,” Whitmore said. “There are stressors from time to time, but, in the end, it is a very worthwhile career.”
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