Lowell looks to solve fire staffing problems

2013-08-03T17:30:00Z 2013-08-03T23:34:22Z Lowell looks to solve fire staffing problemsMelanie Csepiga Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
August 03, 2013 5:30 pm  • 

LOWELL | The lack of daytime firefighters and the use of paramedics on fire calls is a public safety issue on which town and township officials know they must find common ground.

The problem has led to talks of merging the Lowell Volunteer Fire Department and Tri-Creek Emergency Medical Service, a nonprofit funded by the townships.

While Lowell officials have publicly begun examining options, representatives of the three townships — Cedar Creek, West Creek and Eagle Creek — have been relatively quiet.

"I have to look at the whole picture," said Alice Dahl, the Cedar Creek Township Trustee. She said she and her board must represent many viewpoints from across a large area.

When fire and ambulance leaders lobbied for a fire territory to address money matters, an effort that failed, Dahl drew criticism for inviting for-profit ambulance services to make presentations in the interest of learning if there could be a cost savings.

"I think frugally," she said. She said she wants to keep tax costs as low as possible.

Cedar Creek straddles about half of Lowell and includes Shelby and Lake Dalecarlia, each of which has its own volunteer fire department, and all the unincorporated areas between them.

Charlie Scott, co-director for the Tri-Creek EMS and Lowell assistant fire chief, said he favors a merger of the two for reasons of stability, but doesn't see it happening any time soon.

Still, he said, recent talks have led to "terrific cooperation and positives." He believes the EMS should remain a nonprofit.

Dahl thinks many south Lake County taxpayers do not understand how their firefighting and ambulance services are funded.

The Tri-Creek EMS as well as the three township trustees — Dahl, Harold Mussman of West Creek and Rosie Morrow of Eagle Creek — are urging the county commissioners and council to include their underfunded fire and ambulance service in the county option tax distribution.

Lowell Town Councilman Craig Earley, D-1st, said he agrees with Dahl, who says better communication is key to resolving the issues.

"Communication is a huge problem," Earley said. He added he has been encouraged by recent efforts by all parties to talk more.

A former Lowell firefighter, Earley said the daytime manpower shortage and public safety funding are problems foreseen years ago. The fire territory effort was begun to address those, he said.

With that option gone, Earley said a merger is a possibility.

"It can be done. Would it work for us? I don't know. We could even have Lowell fire and EMS merge to take care of corporate Lowell," he said. The townships could then choose to contract with Lowell or consider other options.

"This is a public safety problem that won't go away. One door closed. I'm just looking for another door," Earley said.

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