Messenger photo by Kristy Zurbrick
Lt. Rick Sparks (left) and fire fighter Tom Dean quickly don full gear during a scramble drill at the Central Townships Fire District’s Lafayette station.
Response time is down and morale is up for the Central Townships Joint Fire District.
In the month since the district dropped its all-volunteer status in favor of a combination paid/volunteer department, response time between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. weekdays has improved dramatically.
“It used to be 11 to 17 minutes from the time we got the call to the time we were out the door. Now, it’s under three minutes,” said Chief Brian Bennington, who took the helm April 1 and, with Assistant Chief John Hopkins, got the new staff in place May 5.
The district’s two stations, in Newport and Lafayette, are now staffed with three paid part-time fire fighters apiece during daytime hours Monday through Friday—the toughest times for an all-volunteer department to cover.
Weeknights and weekends are still covered by volunteers who are paid per call. Previously, they received $5 per run; now it’s $10. While it’s not a big increase, it does help to cover gas money and equipment expenses, Bennington said.
All of the district’s new paid part-time employees were volunteers for the district. The administration hired from within to facilitate a smooth and quick transition—and to say “thanks.”
“These were the people who built the department, and we wanted to reward them with the opportunity to go ahead and make money for the job they love,” Bennington said.
The strategy worked.
“It’s like a professional job now. The guys are taking a lot more pride in the department,” said Capt. Mike Chamberlain, who works for the district as both a paid part-time and paid-per-call fire fighter. He has been with Central since 1990. He also works full-time for the London Fire Department.
“We’re slowly growing into a big family,” Chamberlain said. “The two stations are now intertwined. We’re getting to know each other.”
The Central Townships Joint Fire District serves residents in Deercreek, Monroe, Oak Run, Paint and Union townships in Madison County. Before the change to a combination department, the district’s two fire stations essentially worked as independent units.
“One of the township trustees’ goals was to get away from the two-department mentality,” Bennington said. “It’s good to know the guy working in front of or behind you in a fire. You’ve got that trust level.”
To blend the departments, Bennington and Hopkins devised a system by which the paid staff rotates between the Newport and Lafayette stations. That way, all employees of the district are familiar with one another and with all of the vehicles and equipment.
The paid-staff structure also allows the fire district to conduct more training.
“We spend two or three hours every day training. Before, we usually trained one day a month,” Chamberlain said. “We even have a lot of guys now who come in off the clock just for training.”
The district’s work force is diverse. Some hold full-time fire fighting jobs elsewhere; some hold civilian jobs; others are recent graduates of the Tolles Career and Technical Center fire fighting program.
All are committed to providing what voters in the district expected when they passed a 4.75-mill, five-year levy in November last year—increased manpower.
“We appreciate what the voters have done, and we want to honor them by providing the best service we can,” Bennington said. “We want them to now we followed through on our end.”