Year in Review: Arsons, Ottawa Hills merger kept TFD busyWritten by Jason Mack | | firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s been a busy 2011 for the Toledo Fire Department (TFD) including merging with the Ottawa Hills Fire Department, transitioning to a new chief and battling a higher number of arsons.
“We’ve had a lot of things to deal with between the fires and the budget, and now we’re in negotiations,” Toledo Fire Chief Luis Santiago said. “It doesn’t seem like there’s ever a dull moment. I knew that going into this.”
Santiago replaced his mentor Michael Wolever as fire chief July 2 after serving four years as his assistant chief.
“Chief Wolever, if you would consider what a fire chief was, he was truly a fire chief,” said Toledo Mayor Mike Bell, who as the former fire chief worked with Wolever and Santiago. “He was very strategy-oriented and he had a very good command presence at emergency scenes. That’s what he did, and he was very good at it.”
Bell also spoke highly of Santiago, who joined the department when he was 20.
“He’s come through the ranks, so he has a pretty good knowledge of each position,” Bell said. “He’s very well-balanced, very stable [and] doesn’t panic in emergency situations.”
Santiago is proud of the performance of the department in his first six months on the job.
“I have a lot of good help,” he said. “I have many dedicated men and women serving as my firefighters and officers, and I have a great administrative staff that helps me run the business part. I’m very fortunate to have those support structures in place.”
Santiago gained 10 new firefighters Jan. 21 from Ottawa Hills when TFD and the Ottawa Hills fire and rescue operations merged. The merger is part of a 20-year deal through which Ottawa Hills will pay Toledo $430,000 per year to provide fire service. The merger included shifting equipment and adding life and rescue squads to the Ottawa Hills station.
“I believe the merger has gone pretty well,” Santiago said. “We get constant feedback from Ottawa Hills and continue to analyze the moves that we have made. They seem to be working out well.”
The merger has been put to the test with 207 arsons reported in Toledo in 2011.
“There’s not anything we can really pin it to,” Santiago said. “The arsons happen for various reasons. We’re not able to pinpoint why there may be an increase.”
Of the 207 arsons, 143 involved vacant buildings. Some of the vacant buildings were made more dangerous by sabotage such as holes cut in the floor.
“Some of the structural compromises we see aren’t just to trap or sabotage firefighters but also to aid the spreading of the fire,” Santiago said. “Our firefighters are trained to look at certain things and be aware of certain things in the structure. We take great caution when we do that. I’m very proud of our firefighters for doing what they do every day.”