fire district considered by Westshore cities
By Kevin Kelley
and Jeff Gallatin
Published Sept. 24, 2008
cities that make up the Westshore Council of Governments — Bay Village,
Fairview Park, North Olmsted, Lakewood, Rocky River and Westlake
— are exploring the formation of a joint fire district.
If ultimately established, such a joint district would
build on the central dispatch center that assigns ambulance and
fire engines to emergency calls in Westlake, Bay Village, Rocky
River, Fairview Park and North Ridgeville. The central dispatch
center, which is located at St. John West Shore Hospital in Westlake,
opened in April 2006.
Fairview Park Mayor Eileen Patton, who this year holds
the rotating chairmanship of the Council of Governments, emphasized
that the cities are in the initial stages of exploring the option
of a joint fire district.
“We’re not going to move forward foolishly,” Patton
said. “We’re going to take our time.”
During a Sept. 16 meeting at Fairview Park City Hall,
the mayors and fire chiefs from the Council of Government cities
voted to proceed with gathering of more information about a possible
joint fire district.
Most details on how a consolidation of the communities’
fire departments would be accomplished are yet to be determined,
Westlake Mayor Dennis Clough said implementation of
a joint district might require changes in City Charters.
That would depend on what structure is decided for
such a joint district, he said.
“It could be that every city has a fire chief but
you have a district commander,” Clough said.
Clough said a joint fire district will enable the
cities to better utilize personnel and equipment.
The various fire chiefs have been asked for their
input, and the Council of Governments may, by the end of the year,
hire a consultant who is familiar with creating such joint districts.
Clough said he’d like to see the joint fire district become
“I felt it was the next logical step from the central
dispatch,” Clough said. “I think the time has come.”
North Olmsted and Bay Village officials believe a
regional fire district would be a benefit to the entire area.
“It’s something which would provide major long-term
benefits,” said North Olmsted Mayor Thomas O’Grady. “We need to
examine it very closely as we move into something like that because
regionalism is the wave of the future.”
O’Grady wants his city to join the central dispatch
center but has been unable to gain council’s support.
Bay Village Mayor Debbie Sutherland, who also has
advocated regional concepts, said having several cities work together
has already been done successfully.
“Look at the central dispatch center,” she said. “It’s
been working well for the cities in it. Since it was originally
formed, we’ve had other cities like North Ridgeville come into it
because it works. The central dispatch would be another aspect of
having a regional fire district. We also have the WEB (Westshore
Enforcement Bureau and Hazmat teams already in the area of public
North Olmsted Fire Chief Tom Klecan said area departments
all work together closely already.
“With the mutual aid agreements we have, it’s rarely
just one department responding to a major fire or accident,” Klecan
said. “We all come together pretty quickly, so this would certainly
fit in that concept.”
Bay Fire Chief Jim Sammon said a study on forming
a regional fire district would help smooth the way.
“We want to get it done by a professional group which
is very familiar with fire and safety organizations,” Sammon said.
“It can help us pinpoint areas that we need to cooperate together
on to make something like this work. We already have stations set
up in each city, which is a plus.”
Sutherland said areas such as finances, who controls
what and others can be worked by city law directors, administrations
“We need to make it work in the realm of having it
provide the best service possible while also saving the cities money
by doing this together,” she said.
O’Grady said he would anticipate savings in areas
other than personnel.
“We don’t anticipate cutting people; we need the firefighters
and EMS personnel to do the job,” he said. “I would anticipate savings
in the areas of joint training where we all do that together. I
also would anticipate it in equipment costs because if we do it
together, we’re not going to need all of us having the exact same
equipment at every location.”
Patton said the Westshore communities are reviewing
a study that seven southwest communities commissioned to examine
the creation of a joint fire district in their region. Baldwin-Wallace
College’s Center for Innovation and Growth completed a study for
Berea, Brooklyn, Brook Park, Middleburg Heights, Olmsted Falls,
Parma and Parma Heights.
Olmsted Falls Mayor Robert Blomquist told West Life
that efforts to form a joint district are getting bogged down as
individual cities are asked to pony up additional money for further
The benefit of a joint district would be that purchases
of expensive equipment, such as ladder trucks, could be made more
efficiently and shared among communities. But each community would
have to give up some autonomy, he added.
Blomquist warned the Westshore leaders to be careful
about what assumptions they make early on in the process.
“They want to go into this thing with eyes wide open,”
The Baldwin-Wallace study took an “all or nothing”
approach to the combined district, Blomquist said. An equally valid
approach would have been to look at possible smaller combinations,
Nevertheless, Blomquist said the discussion has been
useful to his city and its fire department.
“The door is not shut on anything yet,” Blomquist