Madison, Mansfield discuss shared fire, EMS – Great idea if they’re not privatizing!

MANSFIELD — Madison Township has approached Mansfield leaders about the possibility of shared fire and EMS services.

Officials from Madison Township and Mansfield fire departments are stopping short of saying the two entities could merge one day.

The discussions are part of the 2012 Madison Township Recovery Plan trustees agreed upon last year. The plan, governed by the state auditor’s office, required the township to study shared fire services with other entities, including a combined northwest station with the city; a fire district with Mansfield, surrounding townships or the Village of Lucas; and a contract for fire protection with the City of Mansfield.

Mansfield Safety-Service Director Lori Cope said township officials confirmed discussions are taking place, but said there is no agreement.

Madison Township fire Chief Chris Niswander said the department has 15 full-time firefighters; the part-time firefighters aren’t being scheduled because of the recovery plan.

“Once you look at everything, who knows? It’s probably something that would have to be considered by both entities,” Niswander said. “Such an agreement is going to have to benefit both parties.

“We’re still covering our calls.”

Cope said the discussion of shared services is in the preliminary stages.

“We are going to make sure to do all due diligence. If there’s any additional burden to the city, then we wouldn’t do it,” Cope said. “Our focus is safety of the firefighters and the response time for the citizens.”

She said Madison officials are asking if there is any interest.

“It would be a step up from mutual aid for fire and EMS calls,” Cope said.

In 1971 the city had a contract with Madison for fire and EMS services, Cope said.

“We have talked to our unions about it,” she said. “They’re in agreement for us to open preliminary stages of talks.”

Madison Township Trustee Dan Fletcher said the township has acted on a number of items in the fiscal recovery plan, including laying off the deputy fire chief and suspending the part-time firefighters.

“Right now we have a mutual aid agreement with the city, and it’s too soon to say if it can benefit the city as well as the township, our firefighters and our citizens,” Fletcher said. “Our recovery plan showed a big deficit at the beginning of 2013. The fire department was in the red more than $100,000.

“At the beginning of 2014 I’ve seen cost projections with the fire department in the black.”

Fletcher said he’s not opposed to a future contract with Mansfield firefighters.

“I’m open-minded, logical and have the best interest of the department in mind,” he said.

Mansfield firefighter Dan Crow, president of the Local 266 International Association of Firefighters, said it’s understandable that two government entities with financial problems are having discussions on ways to improve services and save money.

“For an agreement to be properly executed, a thorough analysis must be done and many issues will need to be resolved,” Crow said. “The Mansfield firefighters are calling for this process to be open and public so that all the stakeholders can have input into the process.”

Acting Chief Steve Strickling said he and the other two assistant fire chiefs have not been involved in any preliminary discussions.

He said if the process proceeds beyond the preliminary stages, the fire department administration would then take a more active role in the process.

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