JONESVILLE — The winds of change are blowing through Jonesville, creating a political dust-up over the 93-year-old local fire department.
For starters, the upstart Jonesville Volunteer Fire Department Station 2 on County Road 450S, near State Road 11, will be renamed Wayne Township Fire and Rescue Saturday.
That’s because Wayne Township Trustee Clint Madden says so, despite objections from the town board.
The 8,640-square-foot station was built in 2004 on 3.2 acres of landfill property donated by the city of Columbus.
Madden notified the Jonesville Town Board in mid-October that, in addition to the name change, the township also would sell the fire engine that had been kept in Fire Station 1 at Walnut and Washington streets in Jonesville.
In an Oct. 16 email to the town board, Madden said proceeds from the sale would be used to “purchase more equipment to better outfit the fire department to meet the township’s needs.”
Madden said that, while the town of Jonesville owns the building that houses Station 1, all other assets of the Jonesville Volunteer Fire Department are owned and funded by all Wayne Township taxpayers.
Indiana code states it is the duty of a township trustee, with the approval of the township advisory board, to provide fire protection only to unincorporated areas. Since Jonesville is incorporated, it is the responsibility of the town board to secure fire protection for its buildings and residents.
But state law does allows a trustee to contract with a volunteer fire company that maintains adequate firefighting service.
Wayne Township will continue to contract with the Jonesville Volunteer Fire Department to provide both fire and basic life-support services, according to Madden. Jonesville Town Board member Michelle Rodriquez said the town currently pays the township $1,000 annually for those services.
While the truck has been sold, Madden said Station 1 still has an in-house fire engine that allows the Jonesville Volunteer Fire Department to continue meeting state requirements for adequate firefighting service.
“We just replaced it with an older engine,” Madden said. “It’s there right now. It’s Class A. It still can put out a fire.”
Fire engines that are seldom used are more apt to break down than those taken on runs that also get routine maintenance, Madden said. He said that, since 99 percent of responses to Wayne Township emergencies are now made from Station 2 on County Road 450S, it did not make sense to him to keep a newer-model fire truck in Jonesville.
Another reason cited by Madden in his email for selling the newer truck was that Jonesville “only has one resident that is a member of the department, and with NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) guidelines, there isn’t enough manpower to respond with an engine.”
Jonesville Town Board member John Stacy Bennett said that while that may be true, two other volunteers live less than a two-minute drive from Station 1.
But since Madden’s email contained no mention of an older replacement truck, many Jonesville residents were left with the impression that their town would be left with no fire engine at all. They felt Madden was breaking a promise to keep a truck in Jonesville made by former township trustee Randy Clark when plans to open Station 2 were announced almost a decade ago.
In front of about 25 people Nov. 5, the three town board members unanimously voted to start a petition drive to keep their fire truck. The effort was scheduled to begin near the start of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, according to Rodriquez. The town board originally planned to deliver the completed petition to the Bartholomew County Commissioners.
According to Madden, Jonesville currently has a fire insurance rating of nine on a scale from one to 10, with 10 being the worst possible rating. He said the only way the rating might be downgraded to 10 is if the town didn’t have a fire station.
While Bartholomew County Commissioners chairman Larry Kleinhenz said the petition would be received, he added most of the decisions ultimately rest at the township level.
Other disputed issues between Madden and the Jonesville Town Board include whether a sincere effort had been made to recruit Jonesville residents for township firefighting efforts, as well as the cost of heating Station 1 during the cold-weather months.
But there is one matter on which the Jonesville Town Board and the Wayne Township trustee seem to agree.
“There is not a good relationship between the board and the township,” Madden said.
Members of the town board expressed the same sentiment Nov 5.
Other than email, there seems to be little contact between the town board and the township trustee.
There was a chance meeting between Bennett and Madden outside a restaurant in late October. While the trustee reportedly tried to bring up the issue of fire protection, Bennett said he didn’t feel it was an appropriate setting to discuss town business. He said he simply reminded Madden of the upcoming Nov. 5
The name change and fire truck misunderstanding are not the first perceived blows to the long-established Jonesville Volunteer Fire Department, which has been staffed by generations of local families and played a significant role in the town’s history.
For several decades, the department sponsored the annual Jonesville Festival. That event ended more than a decade ago after the state began demanding tax revenue and elaborate reports from festival
“We’ve got a lot of heritage in this town,” Jonesville resident Terry Barnhart said. “I’d hate to see it all go away.”