Avon Lake will be included as an addendum to the Westshore Regional Fire District study to see whether the city could benefit from shared services.
City officials sat down last week with representatives of Emergency Service Consulting International (ESCI) for an explanation of Avon Lake’s part. During the March 10 session, Phil Kouwe, senior vice president of ESCI, laid out how the city would fit into the current regionalization study of six western Cuyahoga County suburbs and North Ridgeville. Council members Greg Zilka, Marty O’Donnell, Tim Rush and Larry Meiners were in attendance, along with Mayor K.C. Zuber, Fire Chief Bill Morris and firefighters John Reitz and Dana Szymanowski.
The scope of the study is designed to come up with a regional master plan and a feasibility study, looking at the growth and development of the region to determine how those would factor into the future demand for service and risk. The study would also provide each community with its own master plans and a recommendation of whether cooperative ventures may be the way to go.
The study is about four weeks behind because of some “data snags,” Kouwe said, so stopping the study to add in Avon Lake would delay it even more. Instead, he said the company would proceed with two parallel reports that would be tied together. The Avon Lake report would be published almost as an addendum, he explained. He expects the first part of the study to be complete by May, with Avon Lake’s section following by a month or two.
Kouwe observed regional fire departments and authorities are not unusual in other parts of the county, but they were “still radical ground in Ohio.”
The mayors, city councils, fire chiefs and fire unions in the participating communities were supportive of the regional study, Kouwe explained. They all said they may not buy into the results, but they agreed it made sense to have the study.
“I think a lot of them were saying if nothing regional comes out of it, it’s still a good study of the department and a master plan of resources needed in the future,” he said.
The study will model traffic patterns by the railroad tracks that divide Avon and Avon Lake as both open and blocked by trains.
Consolidation of departments has had a tendency to enhance Insurance Services Office ratings, Kouwe added in reference to a question from Morris. Avon Lake currently has a 4 rating. Taking each of the component communities and allowing them to lay claim to a larger number of resources, reserve equipment and improved training has helped the ratings.
While that wasn’t the case 100 percent of the time, he said, “more often than not the ISO have been improved.”
Following the meeting, O’Donnell, who initiated Avon Lake’s taking part in the study, said he was impressed by Kouwe’s presentation. He believes there’s a general movement toward regionalizing fire services because they are expensive operations. He said he wants to see what the cost savings could be with the different recommendations.
One difficulty Zuber expects is when it comes time for the now eight cities to work together to form an overall district or authority.
“I think in theory regionalism is a good idea,” Zuber said.
Morris said he would reserve comment until the study comes out.
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