Birth of a fire district
It takes only nine months to grow a baby. A fire district, it seems, takes at least nine years. With the recent approval of a $100,000 grant for a Westshore Fire District, it is worth a look back to see how we arrived here.
In September 2004, with help from a $566,000 federal grant, four Westshore Council of Government (WCOG) cities – Bay Village, Westlake, Fairview Park and Rocky River – joined together to build the Westshore Central Dispatch Center at St. John Medical Center. This facility, which opened in March 2006, deploys ambulances and fire engines to answer member cities' emergency calls and responds to mutual aid requests from neighboring communities.
Operating costs are shared, but staff are City of Westlake employees. The two remaining WCOG members (Lakewood and North Olmsted) did not join the Dispatch Center. However, North Ridgeville became a member in December 2007.
Barely had the Central Dispatch Center ribbon been cut when the WCOG began to plan a study to determine the next steps for regionalizing fire and EMS services. Ultimately, Emergency Services Consulting International (ESCI) won the contract and produced an Operations Consolidation Feasibility Study in October 2010 that covered the six WCOG cities and North Ridgeville. Based on the results, Lakewood, North Olmsted and North Ridgeville (along with late entrant Avon Lake) decided not to pursue a fire district, while the original four Central Dispatch cities remained interested.
Given the smaller scope, Bay Village, Westlake, Fairview Park and Rocky River proposed a Phase Two Feasibility Study to "contract with an experienced Project Manager who, with his knowledge of Fire and EMS operations, can further evaluate the 76 recommendations from ESCI, including full merger, and develop a detailed implementation plan."
The State of Ohio Local Government Innovation Fund (LGIF) rejected the first grant application in December 2012. This month, they approved a second request for $100,000 that was based on revised cost/benefit figures.
Transitioning to a formal regional fire district would require resolution of many personnel issues, including a common civil service system. In November 2012, Bay Village voters rejected Charter amendments that would have paved the way for regional civil service. Westlake Mayor Dennis Clough now holds the rotating chair of WCOG's fire district committee. Both he and Mayor Deborah Sutherland of Bay Village have been quoted as saying that it will be possible to move forward without amending city charters.
A fire district will impact firefighters, cities and citizens in many ways. The League of Women Voters is sponsoring a forum on evaluating fire district mergers as part of our regionalization series. Speakers are Dr. Mary Pisnar-Sweeney from Baldwin Wallace University and Bernard W. Becker from Cleveland State University. Join us at the Fairview Park Branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library, 21225 Lorain Road, at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, June 19, for a discussion that promises to be both lively and timely.
League of Women Voters