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Washington Township facing no fire protection

WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP — Nicole Bowman, of Ashland, Ky., fell in love with Washington Township when she went to look at a house for sale there recently.

“I love the area, love the area,” she said. “It’s beautiful. There is a lot of wide open space and it’s not all congested and chaotic.”

She bought the house but has since learned her new home has a problem: If it should catch fire, there will be no fire department responding to the call.

Until recently, Washington Township had a signed agreement with neighboring Decatur Township to provide fire service to Washington Township residents at a cost of $3,500 a year. But the contract expired and Washington has no money to pay Decatur to continue the service.

“Due to liability and legal issues surrounding the coverage, we do not have funding to cover Washington Township with financial help and a validated contract between Decatur Township and Washington Township,” Decatur Township Fire Chief Gene Cox said in a letter late last week.

The issue was discussed Thursday at the Lawrence County Commission meeting. While the county has no control over what townships do — they are operated independently of the county and each other — the commissioners agreed to see if they could help.

They agreed to send letters to the Dean State Forest and Wayne National Forest officials to see if these entities could provide any assistance.

Washington Township Trustee Douglas Dickens said the trustees will discuss the matter when they meet Saturday. Washington Township Fiscal Officer A.

Wayne Keels refused to discuss the matter at all, saying, “The problem is going to be solved.” He said it did not need further discussion.

Lawrence County 911 Director Lonnie Best said he has contacted other fire departments to see if they will help, but added that the other townships are in the same situation Decatur is in. “With no contract, it’s a tough situation,” Best said.

Both he and Cox pointed out that without a signed contract, Decatur or any other fire department would risk liability issues if they responded to a call outside their jurisdiction.

“Without a contract, workers comp won’t cover you. Your insurance won’t cover you,” Best said.

He said he knew Cox was concerned enough about the situation to contact Washington officials frequently to ask what they planned to do.

Best said half of the roughly 40 calls for fire help each year are actually car accidents that require first responder assistance or the Jaws of Life or other emergency services that are often provided by a fire department.

While the sheriff’s office and Southeast Ohio Emergency Medical Services can help with these calls, this does not solve the problem of what to do about structural fires. The U.S. Forestry Service will handle brush fires.

“I’m concerned about insurance for private individuals,” Commissioner Les Boggs said. “They may get dropped because of this, no fire protection.”

One of the items that seems to have most hurt Washington Township was the biennial state audit.

The state auditor’s office audits township books every two years and while the audit is required by the state, the township foots the bill for it — in this case, approximately $7,000.

“The audit cost a large part of their general fund,” Commissioner Jason Stephens said. Bowman said she is willing to pay a fee to have the fire service but Dickens said he didn’t think other residents shared that sentiment.

“We have to have fire service, we have to,” Bowman said. “I have a little girl and if my house catches fire what are we supposed to do? It’s a scary thought.”