Departments still looking at how to fight fires together

Trevor Ivan

Fire and EMS protection in Portage County may become a collaborative effort, but any changes in service won’t occur any time soon.

The Portage Area EMS Research and Study Committee, which comprises nine communities including Kent, is studying ways to improve fire and EMS service throughout the county.

Each participating community is completing a survey about its current level of fire and EMS service. The tentative date for completing these surveys is early June. The results of these surveys should reveal possibilities where services can be combined.

The committee adopted its mission statement at its meeting earlier this week. Robert Walker, chairman of the group and EMS coordinator at Robinson Memorial Hospital in Ravenna, said the mission statement, which emphasizes the committee’s goal of improving service to the citizens of the county, will provide the group with structure and definable goals.

“The goal is to see if we can improve fire and EMS services,” Walker said. “Some communities have expressed interest to join into membership together, but others may only be looking for ways to combine purchasing power to be more cost-effective. The purpose of this committee is simply to study different possibilities.”

Many citizens have gotten the impression that the study committee is working to form a fire district in the county, in which participating departments would combine into a centrally run organization.

However, this is not necessarily the group’s intention, Walker said.

Kent Fire Chief James Williams was unavailable for comment. However, he said during earlier interviews that any changes in service would be made with the citizens’ best interest in mind.

Bob Keller, Brimfield Township fire chief, said there are benefits to collaborating with other departments.

“The things we’re discussing could benefit any area of the county,” Keller said. “It’s worth it even if we just find ways to share in purchasing equipment or training fire fighters.”

Tom Smith, vice chair of the committee and firefighter from Paris Township, said he wants to increase service to residents in his township in the most economically efficient manner possible. His department has a yearly budget of only $40,000.

“Our fire department is all volunteers,” Smith said. “They are good people who care about their community. However, it’s getting harder to recruit new volunteers. By collaborating, our residents may be able to have better service.”

He also said the group must be accountable to the citizens regarding any changes to fire and EMS service.

“People, especially those in rural areas, have a warm feeling about their fire department,” Smith said. “They don’t want to give up what they’ve been used to.”

Walker said the group may face several challenges to collaboration. One of the most significant could occur when trying to combine volunteer fire departments with paid firefighters.

“Volunteer departments may average around 200 calls per year whereas a city like Kent may average around 5,000,” he said. “The types of issues that a rural department deals with and those that a university city like Kent deals with are different.”

The committee will meet again next month.

Contact public affairs reporter Trevor Ivan at [email protected].