Fire department seeks new levy on May 3

By Rhonda Bletner - [email protected]

Corrected figures and costs 4/6/2022

MOUNT GILEAD — The Mount Gilead Fire Department is asking voters to approve a new fire levy on the May 3 primary ballot. The .25% income tax will allow the department to continue its services undeterred.

The last levy voters passed was a 1.5 mill for staffing in 2005 and it was renewed in 2012. Of course, the cost of doing business has increased since 2012, and the levy is critical to maintaining the department at its current level of operation, if not providing for improvements.

“I’m actually deficit spending at the moment,” Chief Chad Swank said, “and I’ve been doing some staffing reductions already.”

“And $5 gas, I never saw that coming,” he added. “I don’t have any way to replace capital. My fleet is aging. We have a new tanker coming, but I only paid 5% of the bill. Just to give you an idea on inflation: that truck, when it went out last month to do the final on the factory, they asked, ‘If we ordered that truck today, what would it cost? They said add $100,000.”

He noted the increase in firefighting gear as well. A set of turnout gear: pants, coat, just two items is approximately $3,000 for one fireman’s set. And the gear has a lifespan: it is supposed to be replaced every 10 years—those are unfunded mandates for the department.

The fire department’s fleet of vehicles is aging and they operate out of what was the city’s original 1852 waterworks building with a vehicle bay added in 1974. The layout does not allow the department to grow and there are some needed updates.

The Mount Gilead department made 437 runs in 2021, a 35% increase in call volume since 2016. Approximately 30 runs a year are structure fires.

Chief Swank is the only full time firefighter. The department has 34 volunteer and part time firefighters and paramedic personnel. The department provides paramedic services with five department members serving trained paramedics, three more firefighters will begin paramedic school in May. The department has 15 EMTs. And training costs are increasing as well.

“We’re the only fire department in the county, right now, that can function as a paramedic,” Swank said. “A paramedic can provide advanced life support and an EMT is basic life support. When it comes to IVs and medications for the patient, we can do that.”

He continued, “A dual-trained person is a better fit than a single trained because they see the bigger picture. Being an EMT makes you a better fireman; like when you’re on an extraction. For a car crash—we’re not just there because a car crashed. We’re there for the people inside the car. The majority of our calls outside of fire are people-related. The county has limited resources: there aren’t that many fire departments; there aren’t that many squads.

“Why not be a resource for the county. We use the CARES Act money to do what we’re doing, so it didn’t cost us any money. The CARES Act was to help with COVID-19 and that’s how we were able to purchase cardiac monitors, drugs, bags, and actually helped a couple of guys go to paramedic school.”

This is an income tax not a property tax. The cost at a $36,945 income will cost approx. $92 annually, which is the average income for the Village of Mount Gilead.

“I’ve cut as much as I can; I’ve reduced staffing. My discretionary spending between maintenance and my supplies is $60,000 for 34 guys. That’s everything from turnout gear to toilet paper, and maintenance,” he said. Swank added he’s only used 85% of his payroll budget to try to stretch funds the last two years.

“I’m very passionate about what I do,” said Swank.” Whatever I do, I always try to leave it better than I found it. My predecessors laid a great foundation for me to try to do that. And when I say I have the best department, I really mean it. That’s truly how I feel; they’re my family.” Bletner | Morrow County Sentinel Bletner | Morrow County Sentinel

By Rhonda Bletner

[email protected]