FORT WAYNE – Armed guards now add to the atmosphere of mistrust and conflict that has permeated the St. Joseph Township Fire Department for nearly two years.
St. Joseph Township trustees have hired off-duty police officers to guard their office and the adjoining fire station through the end of the year.
Trustee Richard Uhrick and his wife, Deputy Trustee Jean Uhrick, said Friday the security is necessary as they prepare to disband the current St. Joseph Township Fire Department and bring in the newly formed St. Joseph Fire Rescue Corp. on Tuesday.
The current contract between the township and the fire department expires Monday when the new corporation will take over.
Uhrick has control over the new fire department, according to the two-year contract, and will later appoint a board of directors.
Although Jean Uhrick said they expect no trouble during the transition at 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 31, extra security is necessary until locks throughout the building can be changed by the new administration.
The township trustee said he hopes that the effort will thwart any acts of vandalism or theft by current members of the fire department.
Off-duty officers from the Fort Wayne Police Department will guard the station around-the-clock for $30 an hour, Jean Uhrick said.
She said she hopes they will no longer need those services once the new contract begins.
The trustee recently appointed Timothy Jones as the new fire chief. Jones will replace current Fire Chief Gerald Lencke.
Lencke and Uhrick have had a contentious relationship since Uhrick announced his intention to outsource both fire protection and EMS services.
The township contracted with Three Rivers Ambulance Authority for EMS services after eliminating all paid staff within the township’s fire and ambulance operations last year.
Jones and Uhrick are now fielding applications from those who are interested in joining the new department, Uhrick said.
Although they probably will not have a full force – about 40 volunteers – in place by Monday, there will be enough volunteers to offer the same quality of fire protection to residents in the unincorporated areas of St. Joseph Township, Jean Uhrick said.
When the township department was created, it served about 40,000 residents, but Fort Wayne has annexed much of the area. The fire department now serves about 5,500 in the unincorporated areas.
The township has received a number of interested applicants, some from members of the current department and some new, Richard Uhrick said.
Uhrick’s plans to contract with the city of Fort Wayne fell through last year and again this year.
The two groups were not able to reach terms that were fiscally sound and mutually satisfying, while at the same time providing the same level of service, Fort Wayne Fire Chief Amy Biggs said.
It also would have put Fort Wayne’s department in the uncomfortable position of being responsible for areas such as Leo-Cedarville, Biggs said.
But Fort Wayne will offer, she said, the same mutual aid support as it does for any neighboring agency.
Biggs said she has spoken with Jones, the new chief of the St. Joseph Fire Rescue Corp.
I told him that I know he has a rough road ahead of him, Biggs said. It won’t be easy, but whenever he needs it, we will be there to help.
There’s a lot of loyalty and pride with the current township fire department, Biggs said.
Some of those people have been there 30 years, she said. It will be tough.