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Ohio City Reopens Firehouse for Medics

LANCASTER, Ohio -- Some motorists honked their horns in approval yesterday as firefighters removed the closed sign from the front of Fire Station No. 3.

Firefighters also are happy that their station on the city's east side has reopened. It closed indefinitely on Oct. 24 for lack of manpower after the budget-driven layoffs of 13 firefighters.

Fire Chief Dave Ward reopened it at 7 a.m. yesterday. He didn't scrounge up more money or restore firefighters to serve the city of about 37,000 people, although that would have been his preference.

Instead, Ward reorganized how the emergency medical services trucks operate from the city's firehouses. The change stretches firefighter duties enough to allow the closed firehouse to reopen.

The closing meant the city was down one firehouse and one EMS unit. The change allows the fire department to resume operating three medic units.

Medic runs account for more calls than fire runs: 6,304 EMS runs, compared with 1,595 fire runs last year, Ward said.

Operating only two medic units forced the fire department to call nearby townships for mutual aid 41 times in one month after Engine House 3 closed, Ward said. Those requests were burdening the smaller, more-rural township departments, he said.

There had to be a better way, Ward said he thought to himself. The former assistant chief was sworn in recently as chief, succeeding Steven Sells, who retired.

The plan Ward came up with requires firefighters at Engine House 1 downtown at 254 E. Chestnut St. to "cross-man" vehicles, switching between their aerial platform fire truck and their medic truck as needed.

This allowed the third medic truck to be restored and the closed firehouse at 1596 E. Main St. to reopen. The Engine 2 firehouse is on the city's west side at 601 Harrison Ave.

Residents are pleased the firehouse reopened.

"The more, the better," said Mary Redd, 82.

Still, at 68 firefighters including the chief and assistant chief, the department remains down from the 92 it had. Besides the 13 layoffs, jobs have been left unfilled because of the city's budget problems.

Voters in November rejected a 0.25-percentage-point increase that would have raised the city income tax to 2 percent.



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