In hopes of combining its resources and providing round-the-clock, full-time staffing, the Marshfield Board of Aldermen and Marshfield Fire Protection District need 750 signatures on initiative petitions to get these issues on the April ballot.
For the last few years, the Marshfield Fire Protection District and the City of Marshfield have been talking about combining the two departments, merging the equipment and annexing the city into the Fire Protection District. That’s why the Together for a Safer Community committee was established, in order to get an initiative petition signed and on the ballot.
"This would allow the citizens to decide whether or not for Marshfield to come under the Fire Protection District, which would make for the combination of resources that might help with some additional staffing," said Scott Routh, of the Together for a Safer Community committee.
Routh explained there’s a problem with low daytime turnout because people have to work, and with the petition and the election, their hope is to add paid firefighter positions.
"Marshfield is one of the largest volunteer fire departments in the state," said Routh. "Logan-Rogersville makes the same number of calls that Marshfield does, and they’ve had partially paid departments for several years. Strafford is the same way. They cover the city of Strafford and they have some paid people. Logan-Rogersville goes from city limits to Springfield, all the way into Rogersville, and comes into a good portion of Webster County down on KK. They’ve had a paid staff."
Routh said Marshfield has grown to the point that he believes it’s time to combine the departments. If the citizens vote, the City of Marshfield would transfer the trucks and equipment they have to the district. In addition, there would be a 28-cent levy that would be added onto residents’ personal property tax.
"The city really doesn’t have a tax as such that's directed towards the fire department," said Routh. "All of their funding comes out of their general revenue, and they budgeted about $250,000 for it."
Routh said combining the two departments would take out some of the problems that existed since he was a volunteer firefighter several years ago. The equipment will be under one government entity, and the Marshfield fire board would decide which equipment could go, according to Ruth. Right now, the city equipment stays in the city unless there is a highway wreck or something like that. Greg Branstetter, who is also with the Together for a Safer Community committee, noted the Marshfield Fire Department has a mutual aid agreement with the city.
"There is mutual aid," said Branstetter. "Marshfield has mutual aid with Logan-Rogersville, with Strafford, and Conway, and they all try to help each other when they need to, but we’re trying to get together an initiative petition."
There would be two ballot options for the city. The first would be to annex into the fire district at the current levy rate. The other issue on the ballot would try and add personnel, according to Routh.
"That would be an additional 32-cent levy, above the 28-cent, which would make it about 60 cents total," said Routh. "The district out of the county would have one issue on the ballot: to raise a levy to another 32 cents to 60 cents, so they could add nine firefighters and a couple officers. That would give Marshfield what I think it has needed for a long time, which is full-time firefighters. Right now, the firefighters that volunteer are trained to the same standard as any firefighter in the state of Missouri, same as I was in Springfield. They take the same tests and things as I did. It’s not so much upbringing staff, but just getting staff."
To put it in perspective, Eugene Cantrell pointed out the number of calls the staff and personnel responded to in past years. The Marshfield Fire Department started back in 1926. In 2006, the Marshfield rural department decided it could no longer take care of what it needed to, so a district was created. Cantrell said the annual call volume increased by 477 calls from 2008 to 2018. Combined calls for rural and city departments in 2018 was 1,546 calls. That same year, Cantrell said the city call volume was 879, while the district calls went to 667 calls. He added they had 450 plus training hours offered to the volunteers in 2018.
"As for the staffing, we have one full-time fire chief," said Cantrell. "He is employed by the city. We have one full-time employee that is employed by the district. We have 34 volunteer firefighters and officers. We have 11 volunteer reserve standby firefighters. We have 14 volunteer cadet firefighters and 12 auxiliary members. The auxiliary members, non-firefighters, belong to their own association, of which we have one physical and medical director."
Cantrell added they have four paramedics on the staff, two registered nurses, 13 EMTS, and 16 medical first responders, of which 22 are starting their state firefighter certification. He said 47% of all city calls occur between the hours of 7 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., and 58% percent of all calls occurring in this timeframe go towards the district.
"The current average response time in the district is 13.8 minutes," said Cantrell. "On the city side, it's 7.0 minutes."
Currently, the Marshfield Fire Protection District has four district fire stations outside of the city. One of them is out on Highway A and River Road. The other locations include Highway C and 38, McVay Street (Marshfield) and Northview. In the city, there is one fire station located at Prairie Lane in Marshfield. Cantrell said the Marshfield Fire Protection District includes 14 fire trucks and apparatuses, while the city has six fire trucks and apparatuses. He noted the district has approximately 200 square miles it covers, and that doesn’t include the city.
"If you want to take the 200 square miles and try to figure it in your head, the city of Springfield has 80 square miles covered," said Cantrell. "You can kind of compare that to what the Marshfield rural Fire Protection District has to cover. The city of Marshfield has 5.3 square miles that has to be covered."
The average response time in city EMS calls alone is 6.56, while the non-EMS response is 10.4, according to Dan McMillan, who was appointed to the Marshfield Fire Protection District board and head of the Together for a Safer Community committee. For Marshfield rural response time, it is 12.48 for EMS and 17.23 minutes for non-EMS.
"The number of calls on the city side last year (for just EMS) was 667 calls," said McMillan. "Non-EMS was 212. When you go out to the Marshfield Fire Department/Marshfield Fire Protection District, you had 410 EMS calls and 257 non-EMS calls."
Routh noted that 1,500 calls is a lot to ask someone to make out of the goodness of their heart. When he was a firefighter from 1975 to 1990, a big year for Routh had 125 calls, and the department didn’t run medical calls, unless there was a vehicle extrication or some type of fire problem.
"The medical has really upped the demand for the volunteers to run calls," said Routh. "It upped it so much in the City of Springfield that they changed their protocols on which ambulance calls they would make. The Marshfield firefighters had to do that, too. They were making so many calls with the ambulance that they couldn't cover, so they've changed their protocols. The City of Springfield had trucks that were supposed to last 15 to 20 years and they were used up less than 10 years, so that was the reason for that."
With the petition and ballot issue, Routh said it wouldn’t change the insurance too much because the city and the rural district just went through a rating. They received a 4 rating for being a volunteer department, according to Routh.
"The City of Springfield has a 2 rating," said Routh. He explained that a lower rating equals cheaper insurance rates for customers, and 1 is the best possible rating. "The city of Marshfield has a 4 rating. When I was here, they had a 7 rating, so that has made a difference over years in what your insurance costs. To go any lower in a rating or up in a class, it would be really hard. It would take more staffing and they just went through an ISO rating last year."
The benefit of having the people from the city come into the Fire Protection District would be more efficient use of the equipment. It would reduce duplicating some equipment, along with insurance that each department has to have if they are combined, which will help alleviate some of the costs. Cantrell added it would also make it easier to work with one board.
"They have done it for years and years, and it's working great, but that will help streamline a few things," said Cantrell.
So far, the committee has 400 signatures on the petition, according to Branstetter, who added that they need 750 signatures of registered voters in the City of Marshfield by January to get the issue on the April ballot.