HTVFD moves forward to become fire district
The Harrison Township Volunteer Fire Dept. recently announced its plans to become a fire district.
‘It’s a shock to some people to learn that we don’t already have paid firefighters,’ Jon Saulman, chief of the fire department, said at a public meeting June 29.
Saulman and Kay Schwade of Government Financial Consultants LLC, who is working with Harrison Township VFD through the process, invited the public to the question-and-answer session at the Harrison County Government Center.
There appeared to be one member of the public among the firefighters and their family members and elected officials.
After Saulman explained the fire department would like to be able to have some paid firefighters during the weekdays to help ensure personnel is available for runs, both fire and medical, and to reduce the average response time of 10 to 12 minutes, Schwade explained how a fire district differs from the current mode of operation, with the fire department receiving funds from the township trustee.
‘It has worked very well until expenses go up,’ she said.
Unfortunately, township trustees are limited in how much they can raise for fire departments.
Schwade, whose company has been hired to help Harrison Township VFD through the process of becoming a fire district, said with the department’s proposed budget a homeowner with property of $100,000 assessed value would pay $66 a year to the fire district, if approved.
‘That’s a little over $5 a month for fire protection,’ she said, adding that the second year of a fire district the amount would be adjusted and would likely be a little lower.
(Schwade also is working with Elizabeth, Lanesville and Ramsey Volunteer Fire departments to create fire districts. The other departments in the county ‘ Boone and Heth townships, New Middletown and Palmyra ‘ as well as Milltown, already operate as a fire district.)
Saulman said having paid firefighters would eliminate personnel having to drive to the firehouse from their home, place of employment or even the grocery store.
‘We should be able to cut it down to 6 to 8 minutes to get guys out’ of the firehouse, he said. ‘That 8 to 12 minutes … difference could mean somebody’s life.’
As the township has grown in population with regard to the number of homes and businesses, so has the volume of runs increased.
‘Seventeen years ago when I came on the department, we made 200 runs’ a year, Saulman said. ‘A couple of years ago, we were making 1,700 runs.’
Cecil Trobaugh, the Harrison Township trustee, believes the fire department should not respond to runs that aren’t fire related.
‘There’s nothing in state law that says I have to provide firefighters for wrecks,’ he said.
Rather, Trobaugh, who said he was speaking as a taxpayer in the township, believes Harrison County Hospital Emergency Medical Services should increase its personnel to handle the increase in volume.
Les Rhoads, who is a member of the Harrison Township Advisory Board, asked if the paid firefighters would make medical runs.
‘We wouldn’t change how we operate other than guys would already be there’ at the firehouse, Saulman responded.
Gary Kleeman, HCH EMS director, said no one requires fire departments to respond to medical runs.
‘Obviously, you do it because it’s the right thing to do,’ he said. ‘I’ve told the (county) commissioners so many times the fire departments are so vital.
‘If you didn’t respond and a patient had to wait until a truck came from Elizabeth, the patient could die,’ Kleeman added. ‘ … If we didn’t have you guys, I’d be coming to the commissioners saying I need six more people.’
The EMS director cited the number of nursing homes, schools, factories and shopping centers, as well as the hospital, located in the township.
‘We have millions of dollars in property value here,’ he said. ‘ … I’m not real happy with how much my taxes are, but I know (the fire department’s) here to take care of my family and property. … (Paid firefighters) is about 10 years past due.’
Trobaugh questioned how mutual aid would be handled.
‘We do have mutual aid contracts … due to declining manpower,’ Saulman said, citing the way it works now, and would continue to work, is firefighters provide whatever another department requests.
Kleeman and Saulman both complimented Trobaugh for what he and his advisory board have done for the fire department.
‘Cecil, you’ve done a tremendous job; it’s been that way since I’ve been here,’ Kleeman said.
Trobaugh said he’s never raised the tax rate for the fire department.
‘It’s not that the trustee is not doing his job,’ Schwade said. ‘He’s only allowed to raise so much money.’
Saulman also said he was ‘pretty confident’ creating a fire district could mean potential savings for taxpayers on their homeowners insurance.
According to the Bassett report, a study the county paid for several years ago with regard to fire protection, based on the size and population of Harrison Township, Saulman said there should already be paid firefighters.
The unidentified resident questioned how much the paid firefighters would receive. ‘They gotta live,’ he said.
Saulman said Harrison Township VFD was looking at other fire departments, such as Georgetown and Salem, and police agencies to determine the pay in hopes of not going to the time and expense of training them only to lose them to another department that pays more, a problem the Harrison County Sheriff’s Dept. has had for years. Saulman also noted that firefighters don’t choose that profession to get rich.
‘I’m on your side,’ the man said. ‘You got to make it where we can keep you.’
He then asked what he could do to help with the process of creating a fire district.
Schwade said there are two ways to establish a fire district. One way is for the fire department to gather signatures from 20 percent of the property owners in the township then deliver those to the county commissioners, which would then, most likely, approve the department to switch to a fire district. The other way is for the township trustee to make the request directly to the county commissioners. For Harrison Township VFD, the Town of Corydon would also have to approve the creation of a fire district.
Members of the fire department would make recommendations of people to serve on the fire district board, with the county commissioners approving as few as three people to serve. Schwade said fire district board members usually have a background in fire protection services, among other traits, but can’t be current firefighters within the district or ‘anyone who would benefit financially.’ The fire district board’s budget would have to be approved by the county council, she said.
Harrison Township VFD chose to circulate petitions, which the county commissioners are in favor of so the public is aware of what’s going on.
‘If you’re in favor of it, talk to your friends and family; circulate a petition,’ Schwade said of the creation of a fire district.