CANAL FULTON: It’s not unusual for couples to start cohabitating at some point in their relationships.
Saving money and not having to go home at night might be advantages that also apply to two Stark County fire departments that have agreed to “live together.”
The city of Canal Fulton and Lawrence Township have had an ongoing courtship for several years. Two years ago, a committee that was appointed to look into the feasibility of a more formal arrangement recommended the departments take a trial run at cohabitating. In March, after trustees and council members worked out a fair and equitable “living together agreement,” they approved a one-year trial run that kicked off Monday.
Previously, labor and equipment housed together from both departments to ensure adequate protection rotated between stations promptly at 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. every day. With no formal agreement, the arrangement allowed them to make the best of a bad situation without making waves in their respective communities. If needed equipment was at the other station, precious time and labor were wasted retrieving it.
Now, no one in either department — both operated with only part-time personnel — has to pack up and go home each night. Firefighter/medics on duty remain in Canal Fulton and only reserve equipment is stored in the Lawrence Township station.
“It’s a starting point,” Lawrence Township fire Chief Mark Stewart said during a reception to celebrate the joining of the services Monday at the Canal Fulton station.
“We have the same dispatch center and share the cost of the firehouse software for the state reporting system. We are both invested heavily in the radio system,” applying for regional grants together to update the system in compliance with new state guidelines, Stewart said.
Like many good relationships, the agreement will allow the two departments to maintain individual identities while merging such resources as labor and equipment — and keeping separate bank accounts.
To prepare for this mock marriage of sorts, the departments have adopted standard operating guidelines and now share the cost and procedures for hiring personnel. A fourth person was added to the daytime roster for a full complement of responders for fire calls. With the new arrangement, response times should improve, especially when there are back-to-back EMS runs, Canal Fulton City Manager Mark Cozy said.
“We hope this might serve as a model for other shared services,” such as road departments, Cozy said.
Declines in state funding make it crucial for community leaders to find creative ways to continue to provide services, said Lester Kamph who has served as a township trustee for three years.
“Today, the economy is going to push communities to start doing things together,” he said.
Longtime Trustee Michael Stevens agreed, saying constituents elect officials to make such hard decisions.
“It’s not like this was hatched overnight. A lot of good people have been involved in making this happen for three years,” Stevens said Monday.
A blend of firefighters from both communities who attended the reception say the majority of department members are in accord with the move. It’s a far cry from the mood 25 years ago, when firetrucks needed a police escort to prevent fights from breaking out between members of the two departments.
“There was a time when both departments didn’t talk together,” Lawrence Township fire Capt. Shawn Yerian said. “In the ’80s, they would actually block each other from getting to fires. Now, you would never know they didn’t get along.”
Kathy Antoniotti can be reached at 330-996-3565 or firstname.lastname@example.org.