Bellaire Department Ready to Go

BELLAIRE – Volunteer Fire Department Chief William Swoyer said he will have more than 15 volunteers ready to respond on July 31 – and village leaders hope the interest rekindles spirit and pride in Bellaire.

The village budgeted funds to train and outfit 15 volunteer firefighters, and requests for volunteers were initially stopped at that point, according to Swoyer. More money has now been received at the department, which is welcoming more firefighters.

Of the first 15 volunteers to sign on, all but one has past firefighting experience and training, Swoyer said. Eight of the volunteers, though, don’t have active fire cards, so they joined the rookie for 36 hours of training at Belmont College’s Harrison County Center in Cadiz this weekend.

The group will take computerized testing through the state of Ohio on July 28.

Swoyer is employed as general manager of Emergency Medical Transport, a company providing ambulance services in the Ohio Valley. EMT will provide emergency transport in Bellaire beginning July 31.

The village began paying the Neffs Fire Department $75,000 annually to provide fire and emergency services in Bellaire upon disbanding the former professional Bellaire Fire Department in October 2003. But the Neffs Fire Department was expected to raise that amount in the coming years, according to village officials. Bellaire Village Council voted in May to end its agreement with the Neffs Fire Department, effective July 31.

Last week, Neffs Fire Department members and Bellaire village leaders met at the fire department building in Bellaire – most recently Neffs Fire Station 2 – to inventory equipment and supplies, while determining ownership.

Three vehicles purchased by Bellaire taxpayers and kept at Station 2 – a ladder truck, a pumper and an ambulance – will remain with the Bellaire VFD, as will other equipment there purchased by the village of Bellaire.

Swoyer said he did have to buy a “Jaws of Life” rescue tool for the department, which when new can cost up to $50,000. He was able to obtain a used one last week for just $2,000.

“We’re still working on costs,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff there. Some has been put back, some is not there and we’re just scrambling to find things.”

Among the items needed is turnout gear for each firefighter, which isn’t expected to arrive in Bellaire until July 22. Other local departments donated gear to the Bellaire VFD for use during their training session this weekend.

The cost to train each firefighter is $483, while the price to outfit each one is at least $2,000, according to Swoyer. That means the cost of turnout gear alone for the department will exceed $30,000 to start, in addition to training costs of $4,347 for the nine firefighters needing it.

But Bellaire Councilwoman Lou Ann Bennett said council’s move to bring back a fire department for Bellaire was not so much about saving the village money as it was restoring Bellaire’s spirit.

“This is about community involvement, pride and giving people a chance to give back to community,” she said. “You can help the fire department – even if you can’t fight fires, there’s fundraising and the auxiliary.

“And the firefighters are people who live in Bellaire – most of them. Instead of paying Neffs $70,000, the money can go back into our fire department, and we have our own again.”

She expects firefighters to become very involved and visible in the community through various fundraising events.

Bennett said her grandson, Bobby Bennett, 22, is among those volunteering for the department, and he has four years experience as a firefighter.

“He knows what he is doing, and so do the others,” Bennett said. “Their heart is in it, getting it off the ground. Nothing against Neffs, but it’s time to get our own fire department.

“People are interested, and we have the means to do it. We have to get it back.”

Bellaire Administrator Dan Marling said he didn’t expect the move to a volunteer fire department to save the village money this year, but he does expect there to be savings in 2015 and beyond.

“There were business reasons for the move, but they were not all financial,” he said. “We hope to see financial improvements in the following years.”