Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Funding For the Fire Department, False Alarm

Ryan Scarpino

City Council met last night to discuss its budget for the 2009 year. One of the biggest issues discussed dealt with the city of Athens fire department and fire safety in general. The Athens Fire Department needs a certain amount of money every year to pay for equipment. Right now, the city does not have enough money to help fund the fire department, which is in need of a new station and more firefighters, and the city does not expect enough funding for years to come.

Mayor Paul Wiehl said, “We don’t have enough money to increase staffing and we could use a better fire station in general, so how to do it, I don’t know. We’re keeping discussion of this.”

Mayor Wiehl is concerned about fire department funding

What We Need
The fire stations, the one on Richland Avenue in particular, have seen better days. Its equipment is out of date, the roofs leak and are caving in; pipes leak on a daily basis. And to make matters worse, the bricks holding the building together are slowly breaking and the driveway leading to and from the station is cracking.

Mayor Wiehl mentioned that building a new station would be a good idea but it would take at least five years to get enough money for a new ladder truck, new equipment, more firefighters and of course the station would need to be constructed. A possible site for the station is the property located on Stimson Avenue across from Mill Street Village apartments. However, the property is very close to the Hocking River and the possibility of flooding has delayed any projects in that area.

Fire Protection?
Besides the condition of the fire stations, firefighters are concerned the lack of funding has put a dent in fire safety and protection. And though most of the false alarms come from OU buildings, the majority of those coming from burning popcorn in microwaves, the university does not copntribute any funding to fire protection. The city has suggested that OU donate a certain amount of money each year to help get new equipment because the city learned that some universities across the country chip in money to their fire departments.

Member at Large, Elahu Gosney, wants the university to chip in

Elahu Gosney, a member at large, said, “I think that students are really the ones losing out here, the ones in the older homes that have less fire safety, more electrical issues that might cause fires, and the city doesn’t have the funds to shore up our fire protection right now…We’ll meet with the university to see if there are any ways to increase the amount of money the city can spend on fire protection.”

This Could Take Years
Mayor Wiehl said that it is going to be difficult to get the university to help with funding because the university, like the city, is looking for ways to save money during this economic crisis. He also said that at some point, the two sides have to come together to develop a plan that will help both sides. But until that time comes, the city has to keep looking for grants to help with fire safety and protection, and even that could take years.

Athens MidDay tried repeatedly to contact OU officials for comment, but with the university closed on Veterans Day, and emails or phone calls the following day were not answered.

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