FORT WAYNE – The St. Joseph Township trustee and fire chief are at odds – again.
The townships fire chief, Jerry Lencke, said he received an email from Township Trustee Richard Uhrick last week informing him that the departments rescue boat, motor and trailer had been sold.
That was the first I knew of it, Lencke said, and the buyers were picking it up that very evening.
While the trustee is within his rights to sell and buy fire station equipment, Lencke said efforts to discuss the situation have been rebuffed by Uhrick.
But Uhrick said Lencke knew that equipment was up for sale.
The boat contained safety vests, underwater strobe lights and throw bags – rescue equipment that the crew will now have to buy and replace, Lencke said.
The two rarely speak to each other, Lencke said, but had he known of the pending sale, he would not have had an hours-long water rescue training session the night before for 15 firefighters.
Uhrick said its a matter of downsizing. The township used to be responsible for about 40,000 people, but because of its annexation by Fort Wayne, that figure is now about 5,000, he said.
In December, the township advisory board didnt approve Uhricks recommendation to do away with the township fire department, which is mostly volunteer-staffed, and contract services with the Fort Wayne Fire Department.
Board members did, however, approve Uhricks recommended contract for 2012 with the Three Rivers Ambulance Authority. That move eliminated paid staff within the townships fire and ambulance operations, he said.
Between 75 (percent) and 80 percent of our runs are medical in nature, Uhrick said. When we agreed to contract those calls out to Three Rivers Ambulance, there was no need for paid firefighters.
Since January, he has terminated three full-time paid firefighters, saving $120,000 a year, Uhrick said. He has also ended the agreements of four volunteer firefighters who lived in the firehouse in exchange for responding to all calls between midnight and 6 a.m.
Those rooms have been locked, Lencke said, as well as a bathroom with a shower.
True, Uhrick said, but there are still two other available bathrooms and a night room with six bunk beds.
But its the loss of staffing that Lencke said is what will hurt the most.
We basically dont have anyone to cover from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Lencke said. Sure, we can call for mutual aid, but were at the point where we have to do it every time. When are these other townships going to get sick of us using all of their resources?
Uhrick said the township will sell more fire equipment, including a rehabilitated bus and pump engine. The township is expected to generate about $750,000 on the equipment sales, he said.
Uhrick said the department would still have a large quantity of state-of-the-art equipment and vehicles.
They have very nice equipment, some that other departments forced to use 50-year-old equipment would love to have, Uhrick said.
Lencke said he just wishes the township would confer with the fire department before selling the equipment.