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Published: Wednesday, 9/28/2005

Springfield Township: Fire pact leads to warming relationship with Holland

BY MIKE JONES
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Springfield Township officials are expected to approve a contract on Monday that will make their fire department responsible for fire and emergency services in Holland - and with that, they will mark a dramatic change in the relationship between the two governments.

Mike Yunker, mayor of Holland for 13 years, said that attempts to work with the township in the past were distinguished by people "throwing jabs, ridicule, and mistrust.''

He's grateful to trustees chairman Andy Glenn who approached him earlier this year and suggested they meet periodically to discuss issues of mutual interest to the two governments.

As important an event as the shift in emergency responsibility is, the recent joint meeting of the elected representatives of the two governments had a historic significance, Mr. Glenn said.

In the recent past he said, the relationship between Holland and Springfield Township was nearly "nonexistent,'' and what little there was, was marked by animosity.

He said the meeting should "be only the beginning of a spirit of cooperation and community.''

H. Dale Prentice, a council member and former village mayor, said "I think we've made a move that's almost unprecedented. The communities are working together.''

He noted that dissolving the volunteer fire department was difficult for the village, but that the agreement seemed fair.

The agreement between the township and the village is for 10 years, which "gives us some time to look at one another. To work with one another.''

Closing the volunteer department, Mr. Yunker said, was a difficult decision, but changing lifestyles made it necessary.

He said requirements for how close a volunteer must live to the village and a demand that volunteers respond to at least 25 percent of alarms have been ignored and although incentives had been raised, "there are too many other demands on people's time.''

The only way to maintain the security of village residents, he said, was to either reach an agreement with the township or to begin to pay for firefighters to maintain the station at least during the normal daytime working hours when volunteers have the hardest time responding.

Response times stretch to more than 10 minutes on some calls and in a recent incident no volunteer showed up for a rescue squad alarm. The Lucas County life squad eventually responded, and there was no serious consequence to the patient.

But Mr. Yunker said there was a legitimate question of what could happen if someone was suffering a heart attack and was relying on the arrival of the Holland volunteer department.

Springfield Township Chief Barry Cousino said response times should be about three minutes.

The village is to pay $85,000 annually to the township with no more than a 3 percent increase in any year. It also will get a credit of $50,000 for its pumper, rescue squad, and supplies.

Trustee Bob Bethel said that over time, there will likely be savings as a result of the economies of scale produced by one department handling what had once been two.

He also said he appreciated, "the sense of community,'' which is evolving between the two jurisdictions.

The Holland fire budget for 2004 was $148,000 with expenditures coming in at $103,000. The only employee of the department, Chief Jim Growden, costs the village about $60,000 in salary and fringe benefits.

The mayor said Mr. Growden is employed as a part-time Holland police officer and will be given expanded duties with the village. Chief Cousino said there are some positions on his department that might be filled by Holland volunteers.

Holland councilman Mary Visco said she understood the complaints of some against closing the volunteer department, but said changing times and the population of the village has made it impossible to continue the volunteer force.

"It's trying to take the rural model and bring it into an urban environment," and it doesn't work, she said.

Mr. Glenn said the animosity between the two governments in the past has given way, and thanked Mr. Yunker for being open to new possibilities.

"For far too long we've missed out on opportunities,'' he said, and noted that he and the mayor are discussing grant possibilities for "a walking trail that will unite the communities.''



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