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Fire-coverage plan feeling the heat

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GINA R. HEINE
October 21, 2011
— A plan to transfer fire coverage in northern Plymouth Township from Footville Fire Department to Orfordville Fire Department has one fire chief raising concerns about response times.

The 12 northern sections of Plymouth Township have fire coverage through Footville but EMS service through Orfordville, town Chairman Larry Harding said. The town could save the $15,500 it pays Footville every year for fire coverage, and Orfordville would pick up the coverage at no extra cost, he said.


Footville and Orfordville are about four miles apart on Highway 11 in western Rock County.


Would response times increase?


"Absolutely not," Harding said.


He said the Rock County Communications Center would dispatch whichever agency is closest.


But Kathy Sukus, operations manager at the communications center, said the computers are set up to dispatch the closest agency only if the agencies involved have a mutual aid agreement.


"It's not going to be an automatic thing," she said. "It has to be something the agencies agree on."


If Plymouth were to switch its fire coverage, a new mutual aid agreement would need to be signed by both departments and given to the 911 center, Sukus said.


"We're not the decision makers," she said.


Footville Chief Joe North is concerned his firefighters would be able to see a traffic accident from their department but not be sent because of the service change. Footville now sends an engine to traffic accidents when Orfordville EMS is called in the 12 northern sections, he said.


He worries about personal safety because of the extra distance engines would travel from Orfordville to the 12 sections.


Harding said the town's No. 1 priority is the health, safety and welfare of its residents, and he moved the issue forward only after researching the response times. Residents' safety would not be jeopardized, Harding said, and it's the town board's job to be fiscally responsible.


Footville would respond to the same calls but not get payment from the town, he said.


The town sent about 140 notices to all residents in the 12 sections to explain the switch and seek input at a town meeting earlier this month. Harding said five residents opposed the switch, but he received about equal input supporting the decision.


Both departments respond to structure fires in that part of the township, and that wouldn't change, officials agreed.


Last year, the Footville Fire Department responded to 18 fire and EMS calls in the 12 northern sections.


The switch would mean a revenue loss amounting to about 12 percent of the Footville department's $127,500 budget.


The town board voted 3-0 in September to make the switch, but the Footville Fire Commission last week voted down the town's request to remove the 12 sections from Footville fire coverage.


The change requires unanimous approval from the Footville Fire Commission, according to an intergovernmental agreement. The agreement signed in 2009 has no expiration date.


The issue now is in the hands of town and village attorneys to sort out the next step, officials said. A special Footville Fire Commission meeting will be scheduled in the next few weeks, Footville Village President Gary Selck said.


Approval of the Footville Fire Department annual budget requires unanimous consent from its fire commission, of which Harding is a member. He voted against the budget, telling the Gazette he's not going to OK a budget that includes a payment from the town of Plymouth.



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