Whitley County fire officials considering combining four fire departments into a fire territory
The fire departments in Columbia City, Columbia Township, Jefferson Township and Washington Township announced they are exploring converting into a fire territory that would encompass about a third of Whitley County.
The departments said they are struggling with funding and manpower.
Officials said converting the four fire departments into a fire protection territory would allow them to pool their resources into one large budget as opposed to four small ones.
Officials said they're considering a fire territory, and not a fire district because a territory would keep the same local authorities in charge whereas a fire district would put the county government in charge. They said the county does not have the same experience as the local authorities already running the departments.
Jefferson Township Trustee Chad Nix helped come up with the idea, which he said is still in its infancy.
“Right now, we’re just kicking off the study,” Nix said. “That study will then dictate what kind of impact it will have to the taxpayers and the community as a whole.”
Columbia Township Trustee Matt Minier said smaller fire departments like township fire departments are struggling to keep up with costs.
“Ambulances now cost what fire engines used to cost,” Minier said. “Fire engines now cost what ladder trucks used to cost, and ladder trucks now cost what stations used to cost. These are things that township government is just not equipped to fund.”
Columbia City Fire Chief Tom LaRue said volunteers are hard to come by, making manpower a problem that a fire territory could fix.
“The townships would have more of a stable manpower base to draw from when we need help,” LaRue said. “Then, we would have more of a stable manpower base to draw from when they need help.”
LaRue said this issue is not unique to Whitley County.
“This is a nationwide issue,” LaRue said. “We have dwindled our forces down in the volunteer system, and we’re not replacing them with young blood. We just don’t have what we had ten years ago, twenty years ago.”
LaRue, Minier and Nix did not know how long the study would take, saying it could take six months or a couple of years, They do intend to get input from the public in the future.