FORTVILLE — Todd Jordan, Vernon Township’s new fire chief, reached for his radio with a message for Hancock County’s emergency dispatch center.
“Please mark the new Vernon Township Fire Station 3 in service,” he said.
The audience in the recently completed station’s truck bay burst into applause. A dispatcher’s voice sounded from Jordan’s radio, fulfilling the request before signing off with a “Congratulations.”
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It marked the end of a construction project and the beginning of a new era for public safety in the northwestern Hancock County township. Not only does the township have a new fire station, but paid firefighters are on duty for the first time in its history. They’ve joined two formerly separate volunteer firefighting outfits to form the Vernon Township Fire Department, with finances and policies falling under township government control.
Before Jordan called the new station on Vitality Drive in Fortville into service on Wednesday, Vernon Township Trustee Florence May swore in the firefighters to their new department.
The township has been contracting for fire protection with volunteer fire departments in Fortville and McCordsville. Fortville’s outfit has moved from its former station in the town’s municipal building and into the new $4.25 million facility, out of which 15 recently hired part-time firefighters will also work. Seals Ambulance, the township’s EMS service, has moved into the new station as well. McCordsville’s volunteer firefighters will continue operating out of their station in town.
The new fire station has sleeping quarters, which McCordsville’s fire station and Fortville’s former one lack. Along with its four-door apparatus bay, the new station also has a living room, kitchen, recreational room and bathrooms with showers.
The chiefs of the former Fortville and McCordsville volunteer departments will maintain leadership roles as station chiefs. Jordan, who recently started as fire chief for the township, is also the township’s public safety director.
Three paid part-time firefighters will staff the new station during the day Monday through Friday. Officials have said their employment is necessary in order to serve a growing population and because of decreasing interest in volunteer firefighting.
“The three organizations have persevered to an amazing degree,” May said of the two volunteer fire departments and Seals Ambulance.
Emergency runs in Vernon Township have been rivaling those with fire departments that have full-time staffs, she added.
“We salute those volunteers who have dedicated so much of their personal time to protecting our township,” May said.
After the remarks, firefighters carried out the traditional washing of a fire engine before helping push it into the apparatus bay. As dignitaries and visitors toured the new facility, May told the Daily Reporter that she was grateful for former Vernon Township Trustee Jim Nolte and his administration’s work on starting the station project before she took office in January. She also reflected on the amount of cooperation that was needed between township officials, volunteer firefighters, paid firefighters and the ambulance service to see the endeavor through.
“We owe a debt of gratitude to our predecessors on getting here and to all those people who are willing to come together,” May said.
Rich Lau, one of the recently hired part-time Vernon Township firefighters, visited the new station for the first time on Wednesday.
“It’s beautiful,” he said. “They did a great job. It was very well thought out. You can tell that firefighters had a hand in it. It’s just very comfortable, very user-friendly.”
Lau also works full-time as a firefighter in Avon.
“Most of us are on another department somewhere,” he said of Vernon Township’s paid part-time firefighters. “We’re always looking for opportunities to reach out, learn new things, give back to the communities.”
The changing approach to public safety in Vernon Township signals the decline of the one that’s lasted throughout much of its history. Since 1889 in Fortville and 1952 in McCordsville, firefighters have been rushing from work, home or wherever they are to burning buildings and people who are sick and injured.
That was on McCordsville-based Vernon Township firefighter Doug Roberts’ mind as he mingled with fellow public safety workers following the ceremony.
“That’s several years of history,” Roberts said.
A public safety task force that’s been guiding the changes in Vernon Township is made up of officials from the township, its towns and Hancock County along with volunteer firefighters. May said its tasks in the future will include determining staffing and equipment needs.
A public open house at the new fire station is slated for September.