ROSSFORD – When a dozen firefighters hurried out of a community meeting in response to an emergency call, it did not go unnoticed.
These people “are prepared to die for you,” said Mike Bell, former fire chief and former mayor of Toledo.
“You can’t ignore the fact those people walked out of this room to help you,” he said.
Bell was one of the approximately 70 people who attended a city council committee of the whole meeting held Monday at the Rossford Community Recreation Center.
The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the future of the city’s fire department.
“Why can’t you figure out a way to work through this,” Bell asked. “You do need the help of other fire services … to be able to move your whole service to the next level.”
Every plan would work if you were prepared to support it, he said.
“The cities that work together are the ones that move forward,” he said.
“The whole point of having this committee of the whole meeting is to listen,” said Councilman Christopher Heban. “But most importantly, it is about keeping our citizens safe.”
Council members Carolyn Eckel and Brenna Reynolds said they were still fact finding.
At its Jan. 8 meeting, the council was presented with three options: Developing a stand-alone full-time department, forming a fire district with one or more neighboring communities, and contracting with a neighboring community, mostly likely Perrysburg Township.
At that meeting, Mayor Neil A. MacKinnon III said the council will make its decision in about four weeks.
A fourth option developed by fire department personnel was presented at Monday’s meeting.
Before he left to respond to the alarm, fire Captain Andrew Vascik offered a proposal that consisted of a combination of full-time and part-time staff plus volunteers.
Vascik, who has been with the department since 2001, said it could operate with nine-12 full-time members, with three members on duty at all times.
Part-time staffing would be a combination of EMTs and firefighters, he said.
There would be on-call personnel during the day and overnight, he said, which will allow the department to manage a second or third call for service.
“Right now, we’re struggling to handle the first call for service,” Vascik said.
He had two proposals, one costing $2.5 million and the second costing $2.8 million with the difference due to the number of personnel on duty and the number of officers.
Vascik pointed out that cost did not include funds to operate the department or for overtime.
The fire building, which was built in 1957, is not conducive to 24-hour staffing as it has a group dormitory room, limited kitchen space and an inability to separate apparatus storage and the living area, he said.
Department personnel were not opposed to having a more centralized fire station, possibly near Buck and Glenwood roads, which would allow easy access to Wales Road and Miami Street exits in the event a train was blocking the tracks in the city.
Eckel wanted to know how many of the current crew would step up for a full-time position.
Vascik said that would not be an issue.
“Very impressive,” Eckel said about the presentation.
Frank Cook, with the Ohio Fire Chiefs Association, was invited to the meeting to talk about the regionalization of departments.
He said it would be complicated but not impossible.
Cook alluded to the feasibility study for a Northwood, Rossford and Lake Township joint fire and EMS district. The results of that study were presented to Rossford council in February 2023. Its three options were what was presented to council last month.
Cook said he has seen successful and not so successful consolidation of departments.
Success comes from the people and culture of the departments, money, and politics. Ignoring these issues will result in failure, Cook said.
“People are our most important resource and when combining an organization, everyone is going to have some level of anxiety,” he said.
Cost-savings can’t be promised but the objective is efficiency, he said.
Cook said a consulting service can be employed to help the city determine its best option.
In answer to a question about staffing asked by city resident Pam Oneill, city Administrator Allyson Murray said there are two people on days, two on nights and four people on call per shift.
“The problem is, we can’t get enough people,” Murray said.
The only full-time employee in the department is the chief, she said.
City council should be digging deep and paying the best full-time salaries with benefits available, said resident Jenny Hill.
“Rossford deserves a full-time department,” she said.
“They’ve been pushed aside,” she said about the firefighters. “They’re asking to be a priority.”
Resident Gary Ilconich told council to let the taxpayers decide.
“It’s a taxpayer’s decision,” he said.
Why pay Northwood or Perrysburg Township when they don’t want to come here, he asked.
Why not keep the money in town, he added.
The city paid Northwood $84,000 last year to provide coverage for the city when there are no local firefighters available to cover a shift, said Chris Kirk, city finance director.
Residents Tiffany Densic reported on the city’s $6 million in assets, Erin Crawford told council to look at its short-term and long-term options, and former Mayor Louis Bauer said the city was working on assumptions with no proposals from nearby departments.
Fire Lieutenant Chris Segura said personnel were told at the first of the year they would have some type of full-time coverage.
“We’re still months away from that,” he said.
Estimates that an agreement with Perrysburg Township to take over would take four to six weeks was unrealistic, he said.
MacKinnon has said this was his favorite option.
Rossford’s administration did not do its homework when it put together its three options and did not provide a written proposal to the township, Segura said.
“How can all of these numbers be presented to you guys if nothing in writing has been proposed to the city. …” he said to council members.
“This can’s been kicked down the road year after year after year and now it’s a problem,” said Segura, who didn’t respond to the alarm in order to stay and speak.
Councilman Zachary Owen asked the timeline of the department’s proposal.
Two to four months, Segura said, as the part-time model is already in place and the full-time employees would be pulled from that group.
“We’re going to get this done, probably not as quickly as hoped, but we’re consistently working on it,” Eckel said.
The problems weren’t developed overnight, and they won’t be fixed overnight, Councilman Bob Toth said.
“Tonight was a huge and crucial part of the process,” Reynolds said.
MacKinnon said after the meeting that he has not seen the fire department’s proposal.
Rossford is still talking to its neighboring communities about a fire district but the plan to partner with Perrysburg Township checks all the boxes, he said
“All three options, and even the option that was presented tonight, are all full-time options. We are going full time,” he said.