Ohio Township concerned by mutual aid operation

MILLBURY, OHIO — The birds may have been impressed with the massive fire response when their nest caught on fire in Lake Township last week.

Fire Chief Bruce Moritz was not.

The response of seven fire stations, in addition to his own crew, was the tip of the iceberg in his heated complaints about the dispatching service from the Wood County Sheriff’s Office.

Because of how “auto aid” — mutual aid from nearby fire departments — is handled with the sheriff’s dispatching, the extra help was sent to handle the light pole fire. Moritz said he was able to cancel the calls before the extra firefighters arrived.

“I’m getting auto aid for dumpster fires. I’m getting auto aid for car fires,” Moritz said.

He said the situation is so bad that one neighboring fire chief recently approached him and complained.

“When this happens, with the way our auto aid is set up, I’m getting five to seven fire stations responding,” Moritz said. “That’s a lot of vehicles on the road. That’s a lot of volunteers responding. I feel it’s a wasted resource.”

The situation is also working in reverse in some situations, the chief said.

Last week, when a modular building on the Lake Local School District campus caught fire, no one showed up to assist. The assistant fire chief, after being on the scene for several minutes, had to contact dispatch to radio for help.

Lake’s mutual aid agreements are supposed to be for structure fires only.

Moritz also said that firefighters this weekend encountered a violent patient and had to call dispatch three times before getting a response.

“I’m not mad at the dispatchers. I believe the dispatchers have been put in a very tough situation down there,” he said. “Police today are under the gun and when that officer or firefighter calls for help, he may only have one time. And they should be listening.

“I believe they have bit off more than they can chew.”

Moritz said he met with Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn on Monday for a “spirited back and forth” about solutions.

The sheriff, in a phone interview Tuesday night, said auto aid is a challenge for dispatching for 26 fire departments in the county.

Wasylyshyn said the fire chiefs must agree on how they want the policy: either dispatch mutual aid or not. The dispatchers can’t be asked to do it a different way for each department.

“I want it to work and I want it to work the best it can,” he said. “Certainly our goal is to be the best dispatch center we can be.”

He added that staffing levels are good, with a minimum of four dispatchers on a shift.

“Give credit to dispatchers. They’re very conscientiousness. They want to do the right thing and be good.”

Lake Township Police Chief Mark Hummer also said he wants a solution.

“Believe us, we want this to work. … We want it to be a good dispatch center,” he said. “It’s very hard to communicate with them and have productive dialogue. It’s always ‘it must be on your end’ or ‘we’re training a new guy.’

“We’re not selling grass seed. This is a life and death business.”

Hummer said that people should not view this as a “Mark vs. Mark” battle. Hummer ran against Wasylyshyn for the sheriff job in 2008.

“It’s not. I’m not on a ballot. I’m not going for his job,” Hummer said.

The trustees entered into a four-year contract with the sheriff for dispatching in January 2015. Fiscal Officer Vicki Schwamberger said the township is paying $96,000 annually.

The move came after Walbridge and Rossford exited a dispatching pact that it had with the township. The sheriff’s cost for dispatching for all three entities is approximately $180,000. They had been paying $262,000 to Lifestar for dispatching with Lake Township as the host site.

Trustee Richard Welling said the sheriff would be asked to attend a meeting.

“It seems like it’s a broken system,” he said. “Let’s get it fixed before the community’s here. Because that means we didn’t do our job.”