Members of the Reily Twp.’s fully-volunteer fire department said they were shocked, honored and humbled after their operation was named Ohio’s 2023 Fire Department of the Year last week.
This is the second time the department has been recognized by the State of Ohio Fire Marshal for its service to rural Reily Twp. Last time, in 2013, the department was recognized as the best of the state’s volunteer departments; this time, it won best department outright.
“I think we all almost cried of excitement because we are a smaller, rural volunteer fire department,” said Jackie Wesselman, a trained EMT and spokesperson for Reily Twp. and the daughter of two former department volunteers.
Wesselman explained the unit’s specialized equipment and services has allowed it to stand out from the rest of Ohio’s departments. Reily Twp. has one of two large-animal rescue services in the state, and can also perform grain bin rescues — two areas of specialization that makes the department unique to the tri-state area.
Reily Twp. Firefighter Sean Leventen, who has extensive familial ties to volunteer firefighting, said he’s proud the department can excel at those services along with firefighting and EMT care, all while being fully-volunteer.
“I see a lot of different departments and what equipment they have, and really it just reminds me of how all volunteer departments are called to do the same job as bigger departments but with less training and less equipment,” Leventen said. “It’s awesome to be in that category, to be recognized among departments with more training and more equipment.”
Leventen said the department has slightly modernized recently, which has allowed it to more efficiently serve Reily Twp., something it still does for free.
“We charge zero. Your taxes paid for us to come there. A lot of people, especially the senior residents, they really appreciate that and they’re more apt to call us [as a result],” Leventen said. “Somebody might think twice about calling if they don’t have the money, but they don’t have to worry about that and we get a lot of feedback about that.”
Leventen said the integration of a department-wide dispatching app has allowed the volunteers to know who is available to respond to a call and make more efficient use of time and resources.
“That’s kind of what we do — we do more with less. Because, being a small, rural department, we don’t have access to everything that bigger departments do, so we try to modernize using technology to aid in doing the job with less,” Leventen said.
Last November, Reily Twp. voters overwhelmingly voted for an increased fire levy that has allowed for the department to increase the per-run compensation it offers volunteers to $12.50 per run, not per hour. The levy will also allow for forthcoming equipment upgrades, according to Department Trustee Nick Schwab.
The department of over 30 volunteers will travel to Columbus to accept a plaque from the State of Ohio Marshall and Hall of Fame on April 26.
“It’s shocking and it’s humbling at the same time,” Leventen said of the award. “Just to be recognized in a class like that is amazing and very humbling, it makes it all worth it — the extra time you put into training and getting up late at night and going on runs, to get recognized like this is amazing.”
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