RENO - With only six volunteer firefighters on the roster and paid employees staffing the station for only half of each day, the Reno Fire Department is pinning its hopes on the passage of two fire levies on the ballot this November.
Passage of both levies would enable to department to keep a paid staff at the station around the clock, said Reno Fire Chief Dan Ritchey.
"We do not want to get into a situation where if we do not pass these, we have to rely on our neighboring departments for assistance. Because let me tell you, there is not a department that is not feeling the same burden," said Ritchey.
Photo by Jasmine Rogers
Reno Squad Capt. Bill Lumley, left, and paramedic Susan Werstler, check equipment in the Reno Fire Department’s ambulance. Lumley and Werstler are on the clock until 6 p.m., but after that the department relies on the support of only six volunteer EMTs.
The Reno Fire Department has one of the largest service areas in the county, covering 17.72 square miles. With nearly 4,600 community members, it serves the third largest community in the county, behind the cities of Marietta and Belpre.
The department also serves two retirement communities. And in the past 10 years, the department has averaged 437 runs a year, said Ritchey.
All of these factors have compounded and now the department is constantly scrambling to keep up with the high volume of runs in the community, he said.
Reno Fire Levy 1
* A 5-year, 1-mill renewal levy.
* Will generate $78,862 annually for the department.
* Will cost $28.27 a year for the owner of $100,000 home (tax evaluation value).
* Will allow the department to continue operations as is, with a paid staff in place 12.5 hours a day.
Reno Fire Levy 2
* A 5-year, 1.6- mill additional levy.
* Will generate $138,184 annually for the department.
* Will cost $49 a year for the owner of $100,000 home (tax evaluation value).
* Will allow the department to have a paid staff at the station 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
"We're down to six active volunteer EMTs and we have run them to death," said Ritchey.
Reno resident Harold Steed, 80, said he knows one of the volunteer EMTs and has witnessed how grueling the runs can be on the volunteers.
"It is getting harder all the time. That one poor guy, they call him out all the time. They can not hardly get anybody," said Steed, who added he will be voting for both levies.
The department has tried to recruit new volunteers, even putting out advertisements looking for help, but it has been to no avail.
"For one thing the community is getting to be an older community and we just do not have the young people to volunteer," said Jean Eshelman, chairwoman of the levy committee.
Currently, a two-person paid staff is on hand at the department from 5:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day. But after 6 p.m., the responsibility kicks back to the volunteer staff.
"(Recently) we had a call that a car was on fire near a house. The call came in at 9:10 a.m. We had a pump on the road at 9:10 a.m. and we were on scene at 9:13 a.m. We probably saved the garage," said Ritchey.
But if that call had come in any time after 6 p.m., it could have been a much different story.
With such a small volunteer staff, it is not a guarantee that a volunteer will be available at any given time. Additionally, they would have to travel to the firehouse before even beginning the call, said Ritchey.
"It would have been a much different situation. There definitely would have been damage to the house," he added.
The first levy on the ballot is a 5-year renewal levy that would generate approximately $78,862 for the department. The cost of that levy would be $28.27 a year for a house valuated at $100,000.
The second levy is an additional 5-year levy that would generate $138,184 a year for the department. That levy would cost $49 a year for the owner of a $100,000 house.
"For $7 a month you have got guaranteed squad coverage. That's not a bad deal," said Ritchey.
During the March primary, a similar levy put forth by the department failed by 66 votes. That 3.25-mill levy would have been more expensive than both of the current levies combined, costing $99.53 annually for a home valuated at $100,000.
If only the first levy passes, the department can maintain current service.
If neither levy passes, the department could be facing a complete shut down, according to Ritchey. If that happens the area could find itself relying on a private ambulance service, which directly bills its customers, he said.
It is scenario that Reno resident Donna Wickline, 56, does not want to see happen.
"Right now it is just hard to get extra money anywhere, but we need our fire department so what are you going to do," she said.