Many village and township fire departments throughout Ohio, including some in Hancock County, are fighting to survive. Rising training requirements, equipment costs, a shortage of volunteers, and funding shortfalls are making it challenging for rural departments.
As a result, more and more of Ohio’s 1,150 fire departments are joining forces in order to remain viable.
Such an effort is afoot in the villages of Jenera, Mount Cory and Rawson, and in Eagle, Union and Van Buren townships where officials are considering a merger that could result in formation of the “Southwestern Hancock Fire District.”
If some or all those entities agree to combine fire operations, a levy could be placed on the ballot in those jurisdictions in November to help fund the joint district. If the tax issue is approved, the new fire district would be created as soon as next year.
The three villages currently finance their fire departments through property taxes. Meanwhile, Union Township pays for fire protection from Rawson and Mount Cory through shared expenses; Eagle Township pays Union Township, Jenera and Arlington through an annual per-stop assessment; and Van Buren Township contracts for fire protection services on a per-run basis with Jenera.
While there would be many details to work out, pooling manpower and sharing equipment would seem like a good way to help the fire departments survive and do a better job of providing emergency service to residents in the three townships.
It will take great cooperation for such an arrangement to come together. Firefighters can be protective of their “turf,” and some may be slow to accept change that can result in losing control.
At the same time, the benefits of a joint district could be great. It could increase firefighting efficiency and teamwork, end duplication of equipment purchases, improve response times, and, importantly, save money.
Merging fire departments would have been unthinkable here 10 years ago and won’t necessarily be an easy sell, since some property owners in the district could pay more for firefighting services than they are now. But most people put a high value on safety, and voters tend to support fire and police issues, especially in rural areas.
The joint district concept already has been discussed for several years mostly in firefighting circles, and seems to be at a critical point with public vetting ahead.
A meeting with reps of the townships, villages and the Ohio Fire Chiefs Association will be held at 7 p.m. April 4 at Cory-Rawson School. We would encourage those who reside within the proposed district to attend.
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