The proposed dissolution of the La Vista Volunteer Fire Department could have an impact on how Ralston firefighters and emergency medical personnel responds to emergency calls.
For the better part of three decades, the fire departments in Ralston and La Vista, neighboring municipalities sharing Harrison Street as a border, have worked together closely and relied on each other for mutual aid calls and other requests for service.
Under an agreement forged a decade ago, the Ralston Volunteer Fire Department responds dually with La Vista during the hours of 5 a.m. to 7 p.m.
In part as a consequence of that agreement — which saw the department’s calls for service increase nearly each year — Ralston’s department began a massive recruitment effort two years ago. The department has more than doubled in size to more than 50 members at last count.
Now, with La Vista’s proposed move to outsource its fire and emergency medical service to Papillion’s paid department, Ralston Fire Chief Joe Eischeid said the loss of the La Vista coverage would likely push Ralston’s calls down.
“I think it’s going to hurt Ralston,” Eischeid said. “It’ll definitely cut our calls by half or more. We’ve been helping La Vista every day for a long time and it’ll hurt to lose that. We’ve helped each other out for a long time.”
Ralston experienced an all-time high in call for service in 2012, with 960, eclipsing the 2011 mark of about 830 calls. Eischeid said about 400 of the 2012 calls originated in Ralston.
As far as the effect on covering Ralston’s jurisdiction, Eischeid said he’s had a few meetings with Papillion Fire Department Chief Bill Bowes since La Vista’s announcement to make sure mutual-aid agreements can be worked out to ensure the help La Vista rendered will still be there from Papillion.
“There won’t be an impact on response times,” Eischeid said. “Getting out the door, this won’t affect us any. But there will be times when we’ll need that mutual aid La Vista gave us and we’re going to have to look to Omaha or Papillion to assist now. My guess is Papillion will be mutually aiding us more now.”
What won’t be there, Eischeid said, is the dual-response agreement like Ralston has had with La Vista.
While he doesn’t foresee a problem in losing the dual-response initiative, Eischeid said the arrangement was a welcome back-up plan in the event of a major fire.
“We wouldn’t mind having it, but I don’t think Papillion is going to be interested,” Eischeid said. “They’re a paid department now covering two cities, manning four stations. It’d be a stretch.”
Still, Eischeid said he still has more meetings set up with Bowes to iron out the remaining details as La Vista’s fire stations prepare for the transition. Papillion and La Vista have not yet agreed to the proposal, but La Vista city officials have recommended the plan, which would likely see a decision soon as municipal budgets are presented and approved.
“Where we know we’ll need some help is any time you have anything structural, any working fires,” Eischeid said. “And Papillion has helped us out with that before. We’ve also gotten some help from Omaha.”
With La Vista’s volunteers potentially on the job market, too, Eischeid said Ralston is looking into taking on some of them as members. With the loss of the La Vista dual response and a decrease in calls, Eischeid said spots could be opening up in Ralston as some new members may decide not to continue with the department.
“Some (La Vista volunteers) have already put in applications,” Eischeid said. “With the decline in calls, we’ll probably lose some of our members who may not want to sit around waiting for something to happen. Lots of La Vista’s members live close by, too, so they’d be within a distance where they could drive to the station when the call comes in.”