Can fire chiefs rekindle spark of cooperation?

by Jeff Saunders | reporter Published:

Nordonia Hills -- Several years after talks to improve cooperation among area fire departments ended, efforts are being made to revive them.

Northfield Center-Sagamore Hills Fire Chief Frank Risko said he and Macedonia Fire Chief Tim Black met Jan. 9 and again on Jan. 15 to begin talking about different ways they may cooperate.

"We've always been open to working together," said Risko.

"We were able to meet and talk about sharing some services for the betterment of our communities," said Black.

Both Risko and Black said they plan on inviting Northfield Village to join future talks and Black said he has brought up the matter with Acting Fire Chief Jason Buss.

Risko said top officers of participating departments should soon begin meeting in "brainstorming sessions." Both chiefs said areas they will talk further about include training together.

"We want to get back together to where we were," said Black. "We were doing that, but it fell by the wayside."

Automatic aid calls will also be a topic of discussion, Black and Risko said. As an example, because of the possible confusion over the location of motor vehicle accidents on the divided portions of Route 8, south of Highland Road, and on Interstate 271, both departments automatically respond, one on each side of the highways to make sure help arrives as quickly as possible in case of severe injuries.

"What we're trying to do is get to the scene quicker," said Risko.

"The most important thing in a car accident is the golden hour and the platinum 10 minutes," said Black. "You can imagine having a car accident and having to go a mile down to turn around and driving a mile back. That's not good."

Black and Risko said the departments will discuss other potential automatic response situations.

Risko said another idea is making mutual aid calls "more efficient" by identifying more clearly what is actually needed. For example, he said that when mutual aid for an Emergency Medical Service call is requested, a department would typically send an ambulance with two paramedics. However, this leaves that department short of staff, even at times when only a paramedic in a first response vehicle would be enough.

"They might just need one person," said Risko.

Black said he expects the departments will also talk about standardizing their operating procedures, similar to the way that regional hospital systems, including the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals, are now talking about standardizing their EMS protocols that fire departments follow,

"That's huge. It brings us together more," said Black.

Black said that "down the line," participating departments may even share personnel, with perhaps city firefighters working part of the time in the district's station and vice versa, in order to create greater cohesion.

"We're looking at a multitude of things. Nothing's off the table," he said.

Greater cooperation, even consolidation, among area fire departments has been the topic of off and on talks for years, involving as many as five communities, including the city, village, townships and Boston Heights. At one time, the five communities even commissioned a year-long study costing approximately $30,000 that looked at all four area departments and made recommendations. Following a breakdown of those discussions several years ago, the two townships began discussing the formation of a fire district. At the time, Northfield Center's former fire department provided fire and EMS coverage to Sagamore Hills under a contract. The townships formed the district in 2010, with Trustees of both serving as district trustees.

Also at various times, Northfield Village under former Mayor Victor Milani proposed that the village cover portions of Macedonia and Sagamore Hills closest to the village, but both the city and township ultimately rejected the idea.

Although the study recommended at least some of the ideas mentioned by Risko and Black, such as shared training and standardization of operating procedures, Risko said he does not expect the departments will rely upon it in their talks.

"These are things we feel we can look at through our own experience," he said.

Black said he is "excited" by the renewed talks.

"We regularly need to call on our neighbors," he said. "So we want to work on that relationship."

Email: jsaunders@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9432

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