Multiple township fire departments to possibly consolidate to single county fire territory

NOW: Multiple township fire departments to possibly consolidate to single county fire territory

ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind. - Some St. Joe County fire departments may consolidate, but leaders say this would expand service. 

Right now, Portage and Centre Townships are part of the Southwest Central Fire Territory. 

They’re inviting Warren and Union Townships, as well as the town of Lakeville to consider joining together to collectively create the St. Joseph County Fire Territory, consolidating several township departments into one. 

“One way or another, consolidation is going to be our future,” explains Portage Township Trustee Jason Critchlow. “You can either do it voluntarily or have it shoved down our throats in the next five to ten years.” 

It’s in an effort to reduce response time, provide better service, and recruit more firefighters.  

“I know I come from a generation that expects that when I call 911, a highly trained, well compensated fireman is going to show up at my house within five to ten minutes,” Critchlow says. 

County leaders say it's a trend already starting statewide, combining resources and personnel to rely less on volunteer firefighters.  

“Nothing against volunteers whatsoever, I started out as a volunteer, that's the backbone of the fire service but it’s just harder and harder and harder to get people to volunteer to do this,” says the Fire Chief of Southwest Central Fire Territory, Darrell Eiler.  

They say it’s hard to compete with the wages and benefits that city departments provide.   

That’s why this proposed plan would be a win-win for both the firefighters who will earn a competitive salary of $75,000 under the current plan, and also residents, who should see a quicker and better response when they dial 911.  

“If you have somebody that’s having a heart attack, right now we’re responding with three people, if you get five or six there that’s a lot more hands to do work to save our citizens,” Eiler explains. 

Critchlow claims the consolidation would come with little to no extra cost to taxpayers.  

“80% of taxpayers would see no increase, and the 20% that would see an increase, you’re talking $75-$100 a year, but it’s for better fire protection,” says Critchlow. 

They hope the territory can expand even further in future years if adopted. 

“My ideal scenario would be to see one fire territory for all of unincorporated St. Joe County, but this is the bite we feel like we can take off right now,” Critchlow says. 
He hopes to have answers from those townships on whether they’ll consider joining the proposal by January 19. 

From there, there would then be multiple public meetings and opportunities for public comment over a span of two months before a final vote would be made. 

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