BELLAIRE - There were some last minute issues with defective fire hoses on their trucks, but the new Bellaire Volunteer Fire Department was otherwise set to start responding to fire calls as of 12:01 a.m. today.
The Neffs Fire Department handed over the keys to the fire station in Bellaire at 9 a.m. Wednesday to the volunteers, who then spent the day reviewing their equipment and conducting driver training on the station's trucks. Neffs' contract to provide fire and emergency service to Bellaire was to end after midnight.
Bellaire firefighters discovered early in the day the hoses on their trucks had defects, and Chief Bill Swoyer decided it was best they be replaced.
The official start of the Bellaire Volunteer Fire Department commenced at 12:01 this morning. Pictured are, from left, Jeff Finnicum, Rich Harbaugh, Lt. John Shook, Asst. Chief Bobby Bennett, Lou Ann Bennett, Chief Bill Swoyer, Capt. Billy Swoyer and DJ Williams.
"We spent $3,000 today on hoses, but it had to be fixed," Swoyer said. "There were concerns not just for fighting fires, but for the safety of the men."
A total of 20 men volunteered to be firefighters with the new department in Bellaire, and two other potential volunteers contacted the station Wednesday, according to Swoyer. Fourteen of the 20 volunteers have completed their required training under Ohio law, and are officially certified as firefighters. The other six firefighters will complete their training Aug. 11.
Swoyer said he was pleased with the numbers, as many volunteer departments have fewer members.
"We are starting out better than most departments finish," he said.
Over the past decade the Neffs Fire Department was paid $75,000 annually by the village of Bellaire to respond to both fire and emergency calls there, and they kept two men at the Bellaire fire station on Belmont Street around the clock.
Swoyer said no volunteers will be stationed at the fire station on a routine basis, but when needed they will be dispatched by the Belmont County 911 system as other local fire departments are. The firefighters will only respond to fire calls.
Emergency calls, meanwhile, will be answered by Emergency Medical Transport, a company providing ambulance service throughout the Ohio Valley. Swoyer is employed as a general manager for EMT.
The living spaces in the station will be cleaned up and will later serve as a place for fundraisers and community functions, he said.
Assistant Neffs Fire Chief Ken Brooks said his department won't be affected now that that the Bellaire Volunteer Fire Department is in operation.
"We're not going to change anything," he said. "We will still provide fire and ambulance service to Pultney Township. The only difference is we won't be called out to respond to calls in Bellaire."