In a year upended by the coronavirus pandemic, 2020 was still a rewarding season for the Jerome Township Division of Fire.
“The Division of Fire is just so vital to our community and what they provide to us,” said Trustee Chair Megan Sloat.
During Wednesday’s trustees meeting, Fire Chief Douglas Stewart shared details from his department’s 2020 annual report.
In light of the pandemic, Stewart said Division of Fire saw only an approximately 1% increase in responses over 2019.
He noted that this was a common trend beyond just the township, as many individuals avoided hospitals while they were overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients.
“We kind of stayed flat this year,” Stewart said.
Despite this, he said the department responded to more structure fires in 2020 than they had in the past three years.
While responses were somewhat stagnant, Stewart said the fire department grew in a number of areas throughout 2020.
He said passage of the fire levy in November was the most notable accomplishment last year.
“It was a big challenge but it was a huge highlight,” he said, adding he is “so thankful” for the community’s support.
Voters approved the renewal of the 2011 2.9 mill levy with an additional 2.9 mills, which will not start collecting until 2022. It will allow the department to collect approximately $1.2 million in additional revenue.
Stewart said the funding from the fire levy will be directed mainly toward salaries and benefits of the nine firefighters who were hired using the SAFER Grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The levy will supplement the grant, which covers 75% of salary and benefits through 2021 then drops to 35% in 2022.
Stewart said the ability to keep the firefighters on staff beyond the duration of the grant allowed him to “recruit talent to Jerome.”
He said the additional positions resulted in less cross-staffing between units, which led to more individuals on the scene, less reliance on mutual aid and a faster response time.
“These firefighters are truly a blessing,” Stewart said.
Along with personnel, a variety of grants were used to purchase equipment for the Division of Fire.
State level grants allowed the department to purchase an extractor to clean firefighter’s turnout gear, medication pumps, simulation mannequins and new airway bags, Stewart added.
CARES Act funding also bolstered the fire department.
Stewart said the federal funding was used to purchase 12 sets of turnout feat for firefighters, a bariatric cot and ramp system for a medic unit, upgraded cardiac monitors, decontamination units and a machine to fit firefighters with appropriate N95 masks.
The chief said his department chipped away at many of the goals they set for 2020, prior to the emergence of the coronavirus.
The department successfully passed the fire levy; hired the nine firefighters required by the SAFER Grant; finalized a performance appraisal system for employees; worked to improve the marketing plan and incorporate social media; conducted a budget review; and conducted a live fire exercise at a donated home.
Stewart noted that several goals will carry into 2021, mostly due to restrictions imposed by the pandemic.
He said the department is currently revising its Capital Improvements Budget following CARES Act expenditures and the passage of the fire levy. He anticipates it will be complete in April.
The Division of Fire is also crafting a health and wellness program for all members.
Stewart said Jerome Township is working closely with other local agencies to develop a Union County Insurance Services Office (ISO) Task Force to reduce their ratings.
He said the department’s community safety efforts “really suffered” due to the pandemic, but employees will continue to invest in community relations through 2021.
In addition to these continued goals, Stewart noted several new goals for the coming year.
He said the department aims to start the construction of the second fire station the Jerome Village area by June 1. Stewart emphasized that it is funded by the developers of Jerome Village, not the fire levy.
He said it will take “two years from that point to walk into the building,” so the department is also updating the current staffing model to accommodate a two-station operation.
In 2021, the Division of Fire also aims to secure funding and create a plan for remodeling the current fire station and finalize a purchasing process for an aerial ladder and vacuum tanker.
Trustees agreed that the Division of Fire is continually meeting, if not exceeding, their expectations, under Stewart’s leadership.
“I really feel like Jerome Township Fire is moving forward and I’m really proud to have a part in that,” said Trustee Joe Craft.
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