MOUNT VERNON — Years of on-and-off discussions became concrete Monday evening when Mount Vernon City Council gave a first reading to legislation authorizing the city to provide fire and EMS services to College Township.
By no later than Dec. 1, the city will provide three personnel 24/7/365 to staff the Gambier station at 102 E. Brooklyn St. Minimum staffing is one full-time firefighter/paramedic with the rank of lieutenant, one full-time firefighter/paramedic, and one part-time firefighter/EMT.
“We will assume coverage June 1,” said Mount Vernon Safety-service Director Richard Dzik. “The first six months coverage will be provided by the downtown [Mount Vernon] station. We will not guarantee staffing of the [Gambier] station until December.”
Fire Chief Chad Christoper is, however, trying to staff the Gambier station by August or September in time for the start of Kenyon College's school year.
When asked why he would take on the headache of covering College Township through another station, Christopher said he looks on it as an enhancement.
“We utilize College Township more than anyone as mutual aid,” he explained. “But we don't really know who is coming. Are they part time? Are they trained? Now I know who's coming. They are Mount Vernon firefighters trained to our standards.”
The five-year contract will run from June 1 through May 31, 2026. It will automatically renew at then-current terms unless one of the parties requests to terminate it.
College Township and Kenyon collectively will pay the city $500,000 a year ($250,000 every six months) through Dec. 1, 2023. The amount paid the remaining two years is yet to be determined.
Logistically, Kenyon will pay College Township; the township will pay the city. The first payment will cover the expenses to hire part-time staff and wages to provide the new hires one to two months of training at the main fire station on West Gambier.
“The contract amount that we arrived at will cover the cost of providing coverage,” said Dzik. “The city will also realize about $50,000 annually in EMS billing.”
The city will create a special line item in the budget so it can track expenses and revenue for township coverage.
“We will be tracking the cost every year, but we won't sit down until every three years [to review the agreement],” Dzik said.
When asked whether Mount Vernon citizens will ever be asked for more money to cover College Township, Auditor Terry Scott said, “That was a primary concern while at the table, that the city will not subsidize it whatsoever.”
“We have to look at this as a regional thing, too,” Dzik said, noting funding from other township contracts could potentially help cover the cost of serving College Township. “Right now, we are very confident that the $500,000 will keep things in line.”
Scott said that while Mount Vernon's EMS billing goes into the city's general fund, EMS billing revenue for College Township will go into the specially created township account.
Under the agreement, the township retains ownership of the fire station and responsibility for maintenance, improvements, utilities, debt payments, and insurance on the building.
The township will also provide its equipment for the city's use but will retain ownership and provide insurance until the equipment has reached the end of its useful life. If the city replaces any equipment, the city will retain ownership of the replacement equipment.
Dzik said the township will retain some money from its fire levy for replacing equipment.
In addition to radios, fire protection, and EMS-related equipment, the township will provide two ambulances, a fire engine, grass truck, and command vehicle.
“The township does have all of the necessary equipment to run a good fire station,” Dzik said.
Dzik said one of the advantages to the city of assuming coverage is the student auxiliary program for Kenyon students, of which Dzik is a graduate. He said it's more akin to an internship rather than a volunteer program. As part of the agreement, the city will maintain the program.
“This was a big thing for Kenyon College to keep its student program,” Christopher said, agreeing with Dzik that it is more of an internship vs a volunteer program. “There's not that many runs there in College [Township]. Coming downtown they will gain that experience.”
Dzik said that he is not sure the city wants to move toward a formal volunteer training program for part-time personnel. While the MVFD bargaining union approved the use of part-time students, if down the road the city moves to replace full-time staff with part time, the union might have some concerns.
Christopher said the city factored in the cost of student training when determining the amount the township will pay for services. Additionally, most training is done in-house.
“I don't see a major increase in training cost,” he said.
When asked about additional administrative staff the increased coverage area will require, he said, “Down the road, maybe an assistant chief or fire prevention officers, but nothing we haven't talked about already.”
The city will take over fire inspections of the buildings in the new coverage area. Dzik said this fire prevention cost is included in the contract.
Christopher and Dzik both said that staffing the Gambier station does not affect the city's plan to build an east-end station in Mount Vernon. Dzik said the township determined that a future east-side station would not provide the response times it wants.
“We had conversations with College Township regarding the east side station, and asked if they want coverage from there,” said Dzik. “They are really eager to keep those services in the community. As long as the cost of this contract will be covered by College Township, it really won't affect plans for our east-side station.”
The city has not guaranteed employment for any current College Township Fire Department employees, although Dzik said it is likely that some will be selected through the hiring process.
“The city can only bring on full-time firefighters if they complete the Civil Service testing process, place high enough, and are selected,” he told Knox Pages via email. “Current full-time and part-time staff are free to proceed through the city's Civil Service process for full-time openings.
“Part-time employees do not have to go through the Civil Service process. All current College Township staff are welcome to apply for our part-time openings and will be evaluated against all eligible candidates.”