Plans are on hold to bolster emergency services in Tippecanoe Township, but officials from the township and the town of North Webster will be working toward that goal.
The problem in a nutshell appears to be staffing and how to pay for it.
“Our volunteer fire department is dying,” Tippecanoe Township trustee Chris Francis told the North Webster Town Council in a workshop Monday, “… (but) we have to do the same amount of calls, the same amount of work.”
Francis said he has 13 employees, including eight who are full time. The volunteer roster, which can have 30 people, has 25 names, but only an average of seven are available to make calls. And, with the nature of emergency services, “you never know what you’re going to get from day to day,” said North Webster Fire Chief Jeremy Likens, who said his department has 11 part-timers.
On Saturday, for example, emergency responders were called to a case where difficulty breathing turned into cardiac arrest. Francis said it takes about six people “swapping out” to perform CPR on one person for 30 minutes. Saturday they had only two.
“Several times I have been called out of that fire station by myself, and I can tell you, it’s a scary feeling,” Likens said.
The EMS is staffed 24/7, and all employees are crosstrained, Likens said. Employees work a rotation of 24 hours on, 48 hours off, with two people per 24-hour shift.
The goal, Francis said, is “to have four people here 24/7.”
But that takes money the township doesn’t have, so it has been looking into forming some kind of partnership with another town or township.
One option would be for Tippecanoe Township to join with North Webster to provide emergency services. Another is to join with Turkey Creek Township.
However, to put such an agreement into effect by summer of 2021, terms would have to be reached by the end of March 2020, Francis said.
“There’s a real good chance the town and township could work something out, but it’s not going to happen before March,” said North Webster clerk-treasurer Betsy Luce.
“We’ll lose some of our businesses” if we raise the tax rate, said Councilman Dan Thystrup. “They are chewing my heart out: ‘Do you want us to leave?’” adding that a couple of businesses in town had to close this winter.
“EMS is a luxury this township provides,” said Francis. “To provide good paramedic service, we have to come up with the money somehow.”
If Tippecanoe Township were to form a fire entity with Turkey Creek Township, Turkey Creek would become the controlling entity, Francis said. “If it’s Turkey Creek, the town would have no voice.” And whether they join or not, he said, they still have to add employees.
A partnership with Pierceton or Leesburg was also mentioned, though that possibility seemed unlikely, according to Likens.
Luce said the town had received no information on the partnership, though she and the council members had seen a packet explaining the cost and impact on property taxes. Likens and Francis said there was a second packet and they would be sure town officials received those details.
Luce said they need to “go forward with discussions” on how to make a partnership with Tippecanoe Township work.
“I would love to see this happen, with the town and the township,” she said.
Three public hearings had been planned for the community to weigh in on a possible partnership, but those will not happen, Likens said, since the matter is on hold.