Chief says: Blaze reflects reality of fire department staffing

Larry Limpf

News Editor

Two firefighters sustained minor injuries in a blaze Sept. 3 that caused an estimated $150,000 in damage to a home at 30286 Bradner Rd. in Lake Township.
The homeowner wasn’t at the residence at the time but a passer-by called 9-1-1 shortly before noon to report flames and smoke from the side of the attached garage.
Northwood Fire Chief Joel Whitmore arrived six minutes after the call and found the flames were starting to melt the siding of the house next door.
He conferred with Lake Township Fire Chief Barrett Dorner by radio and they agreed to an upgrade to a second alarm due to the extent of the fire and high winds were likely to spread the blaze to the neighboring house.
Chief Dorner said vinyl siding on the home helped fuel the flames and caused them to spread across the back of the house and into the attic.
The cause of the fire is undetermined but there is “no reason to believe it is suspicious,” the chief said.
The blaze was under control in about 1 hour and 4 minutes. Four firefighters, two from Lake Township and two from another department, were on the scene within five to 10 minutes of being dispatched. Within 10-15 minutes, five from Lake Township and six from other departments had arrived. By 35-40 minutes after the dispatch call, seven from Lake Township and 22 from other departments were on the scene.
In all, 43 firefighters from nine departments arrived in 21 vehicles at the scene.
Chief Dorner said the low ratio of firefighters per vehicle reflects an on-going situation facing departments staffed by volunteer or paid-per-call firefighters. The low number of firefighters on-station and the ability to answer a dispatch immediately is a concern.
“When people watch the morning news and see all the overnight fires, they’re used to seeing the big city where people are on scene in five minutes, flat,” the chief said. “In the suburbs, that’s just not our reality. It takes 10 minutes for a firefighter to leave home, get to a fire station, gear up, and get to the scene – all while the clock is ticking, and someone’s watching their house burn. The only full-time fire department we had responding was Perrysburg Township, and they were just six minutes behind our first arriving volunteer Lake rig even though they’re coming from significantly further away.
“I think the average response time for the Toledo Fire and Rescue Department is about 4 minutes and 30 seconds. So, in about five minutes you have 21 people. It took us 30 minutes to get that many people on scene. I think a lot of residents don’t realize that and it’s our responsibility to communicate that. It’s the reality of how the volunteer fire department has changed in the past 10-15 plus years.”
To help bridge the gap in Lake Township, the chief and township fiscal officer were able to tweak the department’s budget a little with firefighter/EMTs and placing a rescue vehicle with quick attack capabilities for structure fires into service.
Are Lake Township property owners ready to fund a full-time fire department with paid firefighters on-station?
That question will be answered when they decide a 4.2-mill continuous property tax levy on the Nov. 7 ballot.
“Citizens need to think ahead of time about their fire department,” the chief said. “We’re an insurance policy. Do you want a fire truck showing up with six people on it, or do you want an ambulance with two? The first one’s more expensive, but your premium reflects your coverage.”
Several town hall meetings to discuss the levy and fire department operations are being planned, he said.


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