By Jeff Gallatin
Officials from the four Westshore cities still working on consolidation of fire services are planning on hiring a “facilitator” or project manager to help move the process forward.
After the latest meeting among officials from Bay Village, Fairview Park, Rocky River and Westlake in late June, the officials agreed to find a person to help coordinate the work.
“We’re still working on getting a job description on the position,” Bay Village Mayor Debbie Sutherland said. “We want to finalize what we want the person to accomplish.”
Sutherland said they hope to finalize the job description within the next few weeks and work on getting financing for the position.
“We’re working on setting up a meeting with (state) Rep. (Nan) Baker in the next couple of weeks to see what help we can get from the state as well,” she said.
Finding the right person is important, Sutherland added.
“We’re fortunate because we already have a good relationship among the different cities and fire departments involved,” she said. “But the person still must be skilled in getting many different groups to come together.”
Sutherland said the cities likely will conduct at least a regional search.
“I think there are some very viable candidates at the regional and local levels,” she said.
Westlake Mayor Dennis Clough said the person’s management skills will be important to the task.
“We’re looking for a person who can implement this project by working with all the different fire departments and ultimately helping the cities consolidate all four communities into a fire district,” Clough said.
He said he personally thinks an ex-fire chief or someone with comparable experience to understand fire departments would have the right type of experience.
Clough said the person likely won’t be a long-term answer to running the fire district’s services.
“We’re looking at an evaluation period of 18 to 24 months to make sure we get everything up and running properly,” he said. “After that, I’d like to have one of our fire chiefs take command of it.”
Rocky River Mayor Pam Bobst said a facilitator or project manager can help focus the work.
“Having a project manager or facilitator will help us make the decisions as to what needs to be done next,” she said. “There’s already been a lot of work by mayors, fire chiefs and departments, council members and others because this is a big undertaking. At least from my perspective, we have to look at whether we put everything in the different cities’ fire services together, or do we just combine some key services like training, inspections, even something relatively simple like working on the different fire hydrants.”
Bobst said the study done for the Westshore Council of Governments on the possible fire district can also help a project manager and the overall proposal.
“There’s a section in the study that goes into areas of work that would need to be done to get a common district or group together,” she said. “A project manager could certainly refer to that section and other parts of the study as part of what that person will be doing. All the fire chiefs and other members of the departments have already been doing a lot of work, which has been a tremendous help already.”
Bobst said a project manager can help make sure some key components of the work are done properly.
“Whatever we do put together, we will have to decide how they’re handled in terms of control, since there are parts where cities, chiefs and individual departments still have to take care of their own needs,” she said. “We also have to look at the financing aspects since, right now, the cities all have different ways of funding their departments. There are levies in some cities specifically for that.”
She said input from chiefs and other department members will continue to be vital to the process.
Bay Village fire Chief Chris Lyons said all the departments are committed to being involved in the process.
“We’re looking forward to finding the best ways to provide the best possible services for all the cities,” he said.
Brandon Dimacchio, head of the Bay Village firefighters’ union, said the different unions involved want to make sure service stays strong.
“As I have noted from the beginning, Bay Village is the smallest department and the citizens have the most to lose,” Dimacchio said. “I want to make sure Bay or any other city doesn’t become a crutch for other cities and departments and that their citizens don’t lose services as a result of this.”
Dimacchio reminded residents of the cities that their input is welcome in the process as well.