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Fire chief refutes ex-trustee's criticism
Fire chief refutes ex-trustee's criticism
By JOSEPH KOZIOL JR.
Chardon Fire Chief Larry Gaspar last week defended his department and its projected future costs that were used to base Chardon Township's latest levy attempt.
"We can put out 1,000 house fires, save a 1,000 lives, help 1,000 kids learn to get out of a fire, but it takes only one person who is uninformed to wind up on the front page of a newspaper," Mr. Gaspar said. He was referring to the recent trustees meeting, when former Trustee Richard Lutzke questioned the fire department's actions and its calculations in projecting costs.
Mr. Lutzke accused the fire department of using firetrucks to provide rides home for its members and said projected costs were an attempt to enlarge the department.
Mr. Gaspar said policy does not allow the use of fire vehicles to provide rides home for members.
In addition, he said, one of Mr. Lutzke's accusations included the supposed use of a rescue squad to drive a member home on Chardon Road (Route 6). Simultaneously, he said, an accident occurred in front of a store, and the squad had to travel back a greater distance to handle it, rather than having a short ride from the station on Chardon Square.
Mr. Gaspar said none of the department's members live where Mr. Lutzke said. After reviewing accident reports from the last three years, he could find no record of an accident occurring in front of that store, he said.
Mr. Gaspar said department members often are required to take the 40,000-pound engines and 65,000-pound tanker trucks out to learn how to handle them in preparation for real emergencies. "We don't expect someone to be able to jump in them and fly down the road without training," he said.
Besides the numerous programs, he said, trucks can go out to assist a resident who has fallen and can't get up.
Trustee Charles Strazinsky said Mr. Gaspar's appearance at the meeting was not requested by trustees.
Besides providing fire protection and rescue services, Mr. Gaspar said, the department performs numerous other services to the community. He said the department has specialized rescues, using ropes and scuba gear, handles hazardous-material releases, teaches fire prevention, holds Safety Town for children and does inspections for preschools and summer camps. In addition, he said, the department reviews plans for all commercial buildings proposed in the township, does annual inspections of every commercial building and inspects schools and nursing facilities every six months.
He said residents are assisted in establishing dry hydrants, and the department provides Knox boxes and smoke detectors. The department also assists the Geauga Park District with controlled burns, he said.
Mr. Gaspar said that, as the department worked to provide projections for the communities it serves, the information was shared and discussed with representatives from all of the communities.
The cost of the department's fuel, which rose 28 percent within the last year, was calculated using the last eight years and provided a 12.8 percent projected annual increase, Mr. Gaspar said. The department's insurance agent told the department to expect increases of 20 percent to 40 percent annually, he said. The department used the smaller figure in those projections, he said.
He said there was an increase in payroll but only as the department plans to move to six members stationed around the clock at the station. He said the additional member would allow the department to run three rescue squads, or a fire engine, tanker and rescue squad with each fire. He said that move will allow the department to cut response time.
Trustee Steven Borawski said he believes the added manpower would be beneficial to the community, noting that heart-attack victims would have a better chance of survival.
Mr. Gaspar said the department has reduced its workers' compensation costs from 20 percent to 7.5 percent. All other costs in the budget were "flat-lined or slight increases," he said.
He also defended the department's allocation of costs to the communities.
Mr. Lutzke had challenged the allocation, saying Chardon Township paid a disproportionate share.
Mr. Gaspar said the costs are based on property values and the number of calls for each community. He said Chardon Township property values represent 42.04 percent of the total valuation, while the City of Chardon represents 46.16 percent. Half of Claridon Township, which is served by the department, along with Aquilla Village, represent 11.8 percent, he said.
In terms of calls handled by the department, he said, Chardon Township represents 20.79 percent, Claridon 14.41 percent and the city 64.8 percent.
The city is responsible for paying 55.48 percent of the department costs, while Chardon Township pays 31.41 percent and Claridon 13.11 percent, Mr. Gaspar said. "It's a formula we've used the last eight to 10 years, and it's worked, contrary to what you may have heard last meeting."
Mr. Borawski said Mr. Gaspar worked hard to provide the communities with the projections. "I know it was a burden for you to come up with the figures, and we thank you for your assistance," he said.
He said the projections are simply estimates that could go up or down, depending on the economy.
Mr. Borawski also defended the township's decision to seek a continuous levy in November, rather than one for a limited term. "This board decided to guarantee future fire coverage for the township," he said.
He said the Ohio Revised Code does not require townships to provide fire coverage for their residents.
With the continuous levy, residents are guaranteed fire protection for the next eight to 10 years, Mr. Borawski said. "You never know what future boards may do."
If the levy is approved by voters, Mr. Borawski said, it cannot be rescinded without a vote by the people, ensuring fire protection in future years.
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