Portage County fire departments consider collaboration possibilities

Trevor Ivan

Interested communities compose committee for fire department talks

The Kent Fire Department is meeting with fire departments across Portage County to study possible collaboration in their operations with the goal of improving their service.

James Williams, chief of the Kent City Fire Department, said the idea has been informally discussed since last July when Ravenna Mayor Kevin Poland invited representatives from the various cities and townships in Portage County to meet and gauge interest about the idea.

A committee composed of representatives from interested communities recently formed to study the issue. The group is chaired by Robert Walker, the EMS coordinator at Robinson Memorial Hospital in Ravenna.

Wayne Wilson, Kent city councilman and member of the countywide committee, said each participating community is compiling information about its current methods of operation to present to the committee.

He said, for example, some communities have EMS services while others don’t. The purpose now is to figure out how each community handles fire operations so the group can later determine where collaboration can take place.

One of the possible changes that received publicity involves combining the fire departments in Portage County into a countywide fire district. Fire houses and equipment would be located in strategic locations across the county. One group of managers would oversee fire and EMS operations for the county.

However, Williams said the committee may decide against forming a fire district. It’s too early to speculate about the outcome of the group’s findings, he said.

The goal is simply to find ways to improve service to the various communities within the county through collaboration, Williams said.

“Right now, we live by artificial boundaries,” he said. “If there is a fire somewhere, and another department is able to respond before us, that would make sense because it would help the citizens.”

The city fire department’s budget for the upcoming year is about $4 million. Williams said the budget has remained near the same mark because of the city’s financial problems. The efforts to collaborate may help defray expenses.

“The Kent Fire Department is going to need a new ladder truck. It costs a million-and-a-half dollars,” Williams said. “Does i.t really make sense for several departments throughout the county to buy a ladder truck? If we buy one and all use it, that would make more sense.”

Collaboration among departments may also change the hiring process.

“Everyone who applies to work at a fire department must take a civil service test,” Williams said. “However, in the future, all of the departments in the county may administer one test and each department chooses from that list when hiring people.”

Williams and William Lillich, Kent Public Safety Director, presented the idea to City Council last month.

Councilwoman Beth Oswitch had some concerns after the initial proposal.

“The residents of the city have always supported the fire department both financially as well as emotionally,” she said. “I just want to make sure that the residents of the city still have access to the equipment and services they helped to pay for.”

Williams said any changes in the city fire department’s procedures will be made with the citizens in mind.

“Whatever changes we make will be evaluated based on how they affect our delivery of service,” he said. “If the changes will make us go backward in our effort to serve the citizens, then we won’t make any changes.”

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