Boston Heights to close fire department under contract with Valley Fire District

by Eric Marotta | Newsleader Editor Published:

The village of Boston Heights has decided to turn over fire and emergency medical protection to the Valley Fire District effective Oct. 1, thus ending a 16-year relationship with the city of Macedonia and closing its volunteer fire department, which was founded more than 60 years ago.

Macedonia had provided fire and emergency medical services to Boston Heights when the village's firefighters were not available since 1996, said Macedonia Fire Chief Tim Black.

However, due to staffing shortages that left the Boston Heights Fire Department understaffed during the week, the village sought bids from Hudson, Macedonia and the Valley Fire District to take over the fire service and staff an ambulance at the village's newly expanded fire department 24-7, said Boston Heights Mayor Bill Goncy. With firefighters on staff full time at Boston Heights' Boston Mills Road station, response times would be half of what it has been taking emergency vehicles to arrive from Macedonia, Goncy said.

The Valley Fire District was the only one to offer a bid to take over fire and emergency medical service, Goncy said. While Hudson did not submit a bid, the city of Macedonia's bid still required Boston Heights to keep firefighters on staff.

Village Council accepted the new contract with the Valley Fire District Aug. 22. The contract is effective Oct. 1.

Under the new, three-year contract, Boston Heights will pay the Valley Fire District $240,000 per year to assume full operational control of fire and emergency medical services. The Valley Fire District would lease the Boston Heights Fire Station and equipment for $40,000 per year.

The Valley Fire District, which covers Peninsula, Boston Township and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, would also put an ambulance 24-7 at the Boston Heights Fire Department.

While the contract leaves the exact staffing schedule up to the fire district, "Valley intends to staff firefighters at both the village and Valley fire stations on a rotating basis," Goncy and members of Village Council told residents in a letter Aug. 14.

Macedonia had offered a "functional consolidation" agreement that would cost $120,000 per year, with the city keeping an average $25,000 to $30,000 per year in ambulance billing collections, according to Macedonia Fire Chief Tim Black.

Under Macedonia's proposal, the city would have put an ambulance at the Boston Heights station 24-7 for use by Boston Heights personnel when a Macedonia paramedic is not on station. Under the contract, a Macedonia paramedic would be in Boston Heights Saturdays and Sundays, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Black said he refused to offer a bid to replace Boston Heights firefighters because "I felt they could have kept their guys."

He added he believes keeping the Boston Heights Fire Department in business would have benefitted every neighboring community by having more resources on hand to deal with emergencies.

Macedonia Law Director Joseph Diemert, who also represents the Boston Heights Firefighters Association, said that the city of Macedonia would object to Boston Heights ending its contract with Macedonia without honoring the contract's termination clause, which he says requires 120 days notice. The current contract states it is to renew automatically for one year after Dec. 31 expiration date.

Goncy said the village has looked into the termination clause and believes the contract expired at the beginning of the year and that the termination clause is no longer in effect.

Boston Heights Fire Chief James Robinson, who also serves as Village Service Director, declined to comment for this story. Robinson's brother, Assistant Fire Chief Roger Robinson, who is also service director with the village of Peninsula, said firefighters were not consulted regarding the decision.

He said firefighters, including himself, the chief and other active members, have about 200 years combined experience and that the volunteers were performing well with the support of Macedonia.

"We never had a problem with anyone not showing up for a call," he said.

However, Goncy said that although the village recently spent $400,000 expanding the fire station so that it would be able to accommodate an ambulance and firefighters around the clock, the number of firefighters available to respond had steadily dwindled in recent years.

"Presently, we're down to about 8 members," Goncy told the News Leader Aug. 22.

Last winter, according to Goncy and Council, the department "typically had only one or two members within the village or within a 5-mile radius able to respond during the workday."

While the village had considered whether it could beef up its own department to operate on a 24-7 basis, it found the cost would have been $100,000 more than the Valley Fire District's proposal, according to village officials.

Valley Fire District Chief Charlie Riedel told the News Leader Aug. 26 he called the contract a "consolidation," as his agency has agreed to hire all qualified Boston Heights firefighters.

"They'll be offered employment from the Valley Fire District," he said, adding the new contract would enable the fire district to have staffing "around the clock."

Email: emarotta@recordpub.com

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