By Kent Mallett , Reporter – Newark Advocate
ALEXANDRIA, OHIO– The St. Albans Township Fire Department was unable to respond to calls with emergency vehicles most of last weekend due to resignations of department leaders and unavailability of part-time firefighters.
The township instructed the Licking County 911 Center to mark its engine and medic units out of service on Friday and Saturday mornings. The department was marked unavailable from 9:27 a.m. to 7:25 p.m. Friday, and from 9:18 a.m. Saturday to 8:06 a.m. Monday.
So, for 57 hours in a 71-hour period, St. Albans Township vehicles were marked out of service. The department still managed to send an emergency vehicle in response to two of four calls in its coverage area during the time its vehicles were marked out.
The service gaps are happening at a time the department has been been working through questions about the use of fire levy funds and potential conflicts of interest for its new part-time chief, who is also a full-time firefighter at neighboring Monroe Township.
Four members of the St. Albans Township Fire Department, all in leadership roles, resigned recently. Ron Butcher resigned as interim chief on June 14, and Steve Scovell started as the new chief on Monday.
Scovell said leaders in the department can usually fill in for part-time firefighters who are unavailable, but last weekend was an unusual situation. Part-time firefighters generally work full-time at other departments, Scovill said, and their full-time jobs take precedence.
“It’s a fairly rare event,” Scovill said of marking vehicles out of service. “It’s something we strive to not have happen. We were having some changeover in staff and sometimes the part-time (departments) are the ones hit the hardest.”
The two calls St. Albans could not provide an engine or medic unit occurred at 1:59 p.m. Friday and 4:46 p.m. Saturday. Monroe Township provided mutual aid with a medic for the Friday call for an unconscious person, while West Licking sent a truck and a medic on the Saturday response for a personal assist. Each time, St. Albans sent a station car.
Bruce Lane, a St. Albans Township trustee, said the unavailability of firefighters is a symptom of a using part-time personnel. Many departments previously used volunteers, but switched to part-timers, making part-timers even harder to find for all departments.
“If they’re forced to work over at the full-time department, they’re not available at our department,” Lane said. “It’s been a struggle and we’re working on it.”
Scovell, who started the year as chief before Butcher returned, said he does not know why people decided to leave the department.
“No one has provided a reason,” Scovell said. “I don’t know if it’s loyalty to the prior chief or some upset about my taking over the role. That’s a question.”
The resignations included Butcher, Assistant Chief Todd Berona, Capt. Justin Weaver and Lt. James Kincaid. Weaver will stay on temporarily to help in the transition to a new EMS coordinator, Scovell said.
Scovell served as chief for a few weeks, but Butcher returned amid concerns about Scovell’s jobs as full-time firefighter at Monroe Township. Scovell said he was given a “time-out” and became assistant chief when Butcher became interim chief.
“There was a desire to make sure there was no conflict of interest, so we worked through the county prosecutor’s office,” Scovell said.
An agreement, signed by all three trustees in each township, states, “Steve Scovell shall never serve/act in the capacity of St. Albans Township fire chief when he is on duty as a full-time firefighter for Monroe Township.”
The agreement further states, “Whenever Scovell is on duty as a full-time firefighter with Monroe Township, the officer in charge of the St. Albans Township Fire Department shall fulfill the duties of the St. Albans fire chief and act in such capacity at any fire and/or emergency scene.”
Joe Robertson, a Monroe Township trustee, said he is not aware of any controversy or confusion at an emergency scene that prompted the agreement.
“It is possible (that) Steve could be a Monroe Township employee and respond, and St. Albans be there,” Robertson said. “We wouldn’t want any of his work affected, because he’s our full-time employee.”
Another issue people have raised in the township, Scovell said, has been the use of fire levy revenue to pay the salaries of the trustees, who make $12,478 each this year.
An opinion from the county prosecutor’s office told the trustees they could be paid from the fire levy, but the payment must be in the same percentage as time spent on fire department work.
Scovell said he would like more money for the department, but the trustees’ actions are permitted.
“It’s an issue that’s been something we’ve talked about for several months,” Scovell said. “The township trustees have a fiscal responsibility to manage the money as it comes into the township, and they’ve done their due diligence.”