PERRY TWP. - Columbiana County Sheriff Ray Stone said he has no opinion on whether Perry Township should or shouldn't have a first responder program.
"That's up to the trustees and the community. I'm not going to tell any department whether they should have first responders - it's not my call. We just dispatch," he said.
Stone was asked Thursday about the situation with the Perry Township fire department and the trustees since Trustee Chairman Cliff Mix said he received a call from him regarding a protocol list for fire department calls.
During Monday's meeting, Mix said the sheriff was "on the upset side" about all the things the firefighters wanted to be called out for, prompting firefighters to question where the sheriff's office was coming from and why it was the sheriff's concern.
During a meeting in July, Mix said he had talked to Stone about first responders and that concerns were raised by Stone and the police chief about the number of vehicles that could end up at a scene.
Stone responded that he came into his office on Monday and found a list on his desk, dated June of this year, of the calls Perry Township firefighters wanted called out on. He said some of it was different than when he was police chief in the township. Since the dispatching contract was signed by the trustees, he called Mix.
He said he just wanted to clarify the list was okay with the trustees before giving it to dispatchers as policy.
Mix asked him to fax the list to Fiscal Officer Susan Johnston and said he would review it and get back to him. During Monday's meeting, Mix told firefighters he would talk to Stone about the first responder situation, but Stone had not heard from him as of Thursday.
Stone also said that when Mix first talked to him about first responders a while ago, he said he recalled when he was police chief, years ago, that sometimes firefighters would show up at non-injury accidents and there would be six or seven extra vehicles on a scene. He wasn't talking about the present time.
Fire Chief Bruce Whitcher had said during the meeting that the protocol list dealt with fire department calls, not proposed first responder calls. Stone said his chief deputy had talked to someone at the fire department who was going to send down a copy of the protocol list, but this week was the first time Stone had seen it.
The department last fall proposed the idea of a first responder program to trustees, asking for a little over $7,000 to pay for equipment. The firefighters said they would not transport patients or take the place of emergency medical technicians or paramedics, but would respond to medical emergencies as backup for ambulance crews.
Trustees indicated in February that they couldn't fund it with township money, but if the firefighters found funding through a grant or other means to pay for the equipment, they would have no problem with it. Since then, they've been asked to pass a resolution of support for the program that can be provided to the Salem Community Foundation with a funding application.
The resolution has not been done, with questions raised by trustees about the type of calls first responders would answer and whether the service would be covered by their insurance. Firefighters said recently they felt like they were getting stonewalled by trustees.
When asked if he had any problem with the township starting a first responder program, Stone said "no, that's their township. They can do what they want."
He pointed out that the sheriff's office dispatches for other volunteer departments with first responder programs. The number of calls will go up and he said that's something they would have to talk about when the dispatching contract comes up for renewal.
The five-year contract was signed Sept. 1, 2008 and expires next year. He said the contract does not limit the type of calls or the number of calls dispatched. He didn't recall having a written protocol from the Perry Township fire department before, explaining that they follow the 911 protocol. His dispatchers average about 12,000 calls per month overall and he said they know what they're doing.
"We do the job that we're paid to do. If they want to make changes that's fine, but it's up to the trustees to decide policy. They signed the contract," he said, adding, "They should be the ones telling me to do it. We'll do whatever the trustees want us to do."
Stone didn't know who placed the protocol list on his desk or where it came from, so he just wanted to check with the trustees first. He said he would gladly meet with the fire chief if he wanted to talk with him. He said he had no contact from anyone in the department about any problem with dispatching.
Mary Ann Greier can be reached at email@example.com