Bowling Green Fire Division gains accreditation despite being short staffed

After roughly 10 years of reform, the Bowling Green Fire Division achieved accreditation despite being short staffed for major emergencies.

On March 10, the division became the 10th fire agency in Ohio to gain that status from Commission on Fire Accreditation International. But it was a process the division had to fight for, said Capt. Doug Isaacson, accreditation manager for the division.

One snag the division encountered was the requirement of having 15 responders to a major emergency such as a fire. It can only provide 11 due to budget constraints.

“A creative solution is to use the surrounding departments for mutual aid, which offsets that [requirement],” he said. “We don’t have many big emergencies, but it was an uphill battle and we fought the commission [to meet the requirement].”

Because of the city’s budget limitations, Municipal Administrator John Fawcett said adding more staff is not an option.

“I don’t anticipate [the division’s accreditation] will change the budgeting process,” Fawcett said. “Personnel is the largest expense and we try to balance the budget based on realities.”

If a major emergency does occur, the division has to rely on the surrounding cities departments, which poses difficulties.

“We don’t have full-time departments around us,” Isaacson said. “If we need help, it could be a while before we get help on the scene.”

The average response time for fire rescue is five minutes; if there is a delay in getting enough firefighters there, a fire can get out of control, he said.

“If we’re quicker to the scene, we’ll be more effective on getting positive outcomes,” Isaacson said.

One way the division is improving its response time is to shorten the time it takes to receive an emergency call and get the ambulances and fire crews out of the station, he said. Improving this time was included in the criteria for accreditation.

“They’re not substantial leaps, but it shaves seconds off,” Isaacson said, noting that every second counts when it comes to responding to a call.

Getting accredited, however, does not just encompass emergencies, but the facilities and policies of the fire division.

“The whole process looked at everything we do in emergencies and non-emergencies against model standards,” Isaacson said. “The whole process is constant quality improvement and in five years we’ll go through it again.”

To gain accreditation, some of the requirements the division had to meet was to update its strategic plan, undergo peer review and meet roughly 250 different criteria. To retain its accreditation, an agency must go through the process every five years.

While Isaacson is proud of the division’s accomplishment, he still said there is a long way to go.

“Just because we have a plaque doesn’t mean we’re through with the process,” Isaacson said. “We put a lot of work into it and it’s not over. The message that is sent to the community is that the city services provided are constantly in flux and we’re constantly trying to improve them.”

To continue to be an efficient division, both Isaacson and Chief Stephen Meredith said extra staff is the biggest improvement they can make.

The city realizes that eventually we will need a third station,” Meredith said. Currently, there is one located on Thurstin Avenue and one on Pearl Street near the Wood County Hospital. “We know we don’t have enough manpower and the city knows. It’s just not economically feasible.”