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Medina fire chief gives his reasons for opposing dissolution

Posted 13 January 2015 at 12:00 am

Editor:

As we get closer to Jan 20, we as village residents have a very important decision to make. Do we vote yes to dissolve our village or do we vote no and keep our village intact as it has been for over 175 years?

Before I offer my opinion I will state first, yes I am a village employee and have been for the past 21 years. Some will read this and say I’m only trying to protect our jobs, and that’s fine. I understand there are strong feelings on both sides of this subject.

For those who know me they know my parents raised me not to be an alarmist but a realist and my opinion is based on over 29 years in the emergency services field.

For over two years much time and effort has been put into exploring the possible dissolution of our village. Many people have spent countless hours in meetings putting together two different studies to present the information to our residents. I personally know that several of these people are highly respected and qualified professionals in our community.

First, I want to go on record and say, as the fire chief I was included in the informational gathering process of both studies.With that being said, very little time was spent with me by members of CGR regarding the fire department on either study. I was involved with face-to-face meetings, lasting 45 minutes and and an hour, respectively, along with a few emails.

I guess they felt they had enough information to make recommendations for the future of our department based on those interactions alone, knowing that we respond to 3,000 calls a year, have 13 full-time employees, 2 temporary full-time, and over 20 call firefighters. Not to mention a budget of around $1.3 million and revenue of well over a million dollars a year for the Village of Medina.

The second study, when completed, produced a list of recommendations that if
the village dissolves, the towns will have the choice to follow or chose not to. I can compare this list to the one I used to make for Santa when I was a little boy…. A wish list!!

My mother would tell me I was a good child throughout the year, but Santa never brought me everything on my list. Some years I got one thing, some none, but never did I receive everything. Are we willing to dissolve the village hoping we will be granted everything on One Medina’s wish list. The towns have already gone on record stating they are not planning on following the recommendation.

As an example I would like to reference another study that our Village Board commissioned back in 2006 – an ambulance feasibility study. The Medina Fire Department wanted to take over primary ambulance service in Western Orleans County. The study stated it would take 17 full-time firefighters to accommodate roughly 1,500 to 1,700 calls per year.

As you can see from the demographics of our department as stated above, we do not have close to the staffing levels recommended by this study and respond to double the amount of calls. I tell you this not to complain about our manpower. Only to make a point that a study does not need to be adhered to by leaders. A study is just that, with no obligation to follow.

Comments have been made on social media that state, if we don’t dissolve the village there is no guarantee that we can maintain our current services as they are today. That statement stands true every year, for any municipality no matter how small a town or how big a city.

I have been a department head since 2003. Each budget year we have to work diligently to maintain costs as we move forward to the next. There are some costs that are beyond our control. There have been years that we have had to cut into our equipment budget to keep costs at a respectable rate and still provide the level of service our community deserves. I can not say that taxes will not go up from year to year, but I will say if the village does not dissolve we will continue to work hard to keep your services intact.

I do not fear change. Change is good if it provides a clear and positive path to follow. If the village dissolves, there is no clear path. We do not know how it will affect your emergency services. I can only speak for the Fire Department. Your Medina Fire Department as you know it today will not be the same, and in my opinion we have the best fire and ambulance protection here in the western side of Orleans County.

The Medina Fire Department is part of a wheel, “the hub” and the spokes are four excellent volunteer fire departments – East Shelby, Shelby, Ridgeway and Lyndonville. We all need each other’s help and if you take one part away from the wheel it will have a hard time spinning.

If a fire and ambulance district are not successful in being created as the studies suggest please know this, Shelby and Ridgeway Fire Departments will be asked to respond to calls inside their respective townships that were once the village. The increase in call volume alone for each department will be on average six times the amount of calls they respond to now. That alone will be very hard for an all-volunteer department to sustain.

It is a fact that fire doubles in size every minute. Shelby’s fire hall sits roughly 1.5 miles outside the village and Ridgeway is 3 miles away. Again these departments are excellent but the fact is it will take longer for trucks to arrive on scene inside the old village borders.

The Medina Fire Department maintains four ALS (Advanced Life Support) ambulances staffed by some of the best paramedics and EMTs WNY has to offer. One of the only options if the ambulance district isn’t created is to go back to a commercial ambulance service.

There is only one presently with a state-wide CON (Certificate of Need) which could set up shop quickly. It is the same company we had prior to 2007 which could not maintain the level of service our community needed even then. No commercial ambulance will maintain any more than one ambulance in our area with a possible floater during high-call volume times.

Another fact… We will be waiting longer times for an ambulance to get to an emergency. As I worked for three years in the Orleans 911 dispatch center before coming to work at the fire department, trust me I spent many times on the phone reassuring the caller on the other end that help was near when I knew help was still a long way away from them. In comparison, the Medina Fire Department was on scene within 3 minutes each time we were dispatched to an emergency inside of village, bringing help much sooner.

Here comes the realist in me… The guys at the fire department are concerned. These last two years have been the most stressful years of my career, trying to keep the guys focused on doing our job (which is adherently stressful enough) without the distraction of the possible dissolution.

If the Village dissolves I can predict that we will start losing some very good young firefighters almost immediately to other departments. These firefighters don’t want to leave the village they love but with young families to support they will leave for a more stable and secure future. I know they say we will have two years to make the transition but what isn’t being talked about is how do we maintain our level of service when we start losing valuable firefighters.

With uncertainty in the air there won’t be anyone knocking on our door knowing the future of our department is unknown. I can not possibly work these men any harder if we lose manpower. I refer again to the study above regarding staffing levels, they suggest one paid firefighter for every 100 calls per year. We are currently at approximately 200 calls per paid firefighter per year.

At some point, sooner than later, tough decisions will have to be made if we feel our level of services can not be maintained to our standards or that the Village of Medina residents have become accustomed too.

On Jan. 20, we as village residents will be faced with in my opinion one of the most important votes of our lifetime. I know in a lot of elections we all ask ourselves: “Does our vote really count?” Trust me, it does. Before you vote, please educate yourself as much as possible with the facts and then ask yourself, what level of service am I and my family willing to live with or live without?

There are a lot of different figures being tossed out there about what will we save if we dissolve. I know personally as I figured out my supposed savings, if I go by the savings calculator on the One Medina’s website. It equates to one and a half months of my cell phone bill or going out to dinner less than one time a month for a year. I’m willing to give up both for life if it means having a police car, a fire truck or an ambulance at my front door within 3 minutes of calling.

We all have a choice. I choose to live in the village for the services they provide and I’m willing to pay for that. The residents in the towns of Shelby and Ridgeway have also chosen where they want to live. The Village of Medina residents should not be the only ones allowed to vote on decisions that will impact the towns.

If the village dissolves and services are lost, there is no going back to the way it was. If you have faith in your leaders and department heads then give us a chance to continue to provide the services we have been in our community for the past 175 years. I love the Village of Medina and surrounding area. I was raised here, went to school here and started a family here. If I work here another 15 years or retire tomorrow, I will always be proud to tell people the Village of Medina is my home.

On Jan. 21, after the vote is done, no matter the outcome, will life still go on … absolutely. We will still go to bed at the same time, wake up, kiss our family goodbye, grab our coffee and head to work. If the village dissolves, the blanket of security that we cover ourselves with each night as we close our eyes will undoubtedly be thinner.

Please remember, as the saying goes: You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.

Respectively,

Todd Zinkievich
Proud Fire Chief of the Village of Medina Fire Department