Owensville firemen have increased role assisting Bland district in 2017

Dave Marner

Volunteer firemen from Owensville had responded to 70 mutual aid calls through the end of November, according to Chief Curtis Aytes in his report to the Owensville Board of Aldermen. Of those, about 50 percent, he said, was assisting the Bland Fire Protection District, Aytes told aldermen at their Dec. 4 meeting.

Aytes has been keeping aldermen updated throughout much of 2017 on an increase in calls to assist their western Gasconade County neighbors in Bland.

Back in mid-March, Aytes told aldermen the Owensville volunteers had already responded to 88 calls including 20 for mutual aid responses. “Not all have been specific to Bland but many have,” Aytes told aldermen at the city’s March 20 meeting. “We’re trying not to send too much equipment anywhere. If it’s an ongoing thing for a long time, we’re going to have to cross that bridge, especially if they’re drawing tax dollars while they aren’t using them (to fight fires). I just wanted to let you know what’s going on.”

By April, Owensville’s volunteers had responded to 26 mutual aid calls with 22 of them to assist Bland. Their calls were pretty evenly split 40 to 60 percent on calls in town and calls out of town, which follows the historic trend, Aytes told the board then.

What was different, however, was the number of mutual aid assists to Bland. Of the 26 mutual aid calls, 15 were to Bland.

And, there was already a noticeable increase in mutual aid calls. There had been only 22 in all of 2016 and they had made 26 calls for assistance in the first quarter alone.

By early December, Aytes reported the Owensville and Mt. Sterling members of the local volunteer department had responded to 70 mutual aid calls among their 305 calls for the year. That figure was up from 299 calls in 2016, he noted.

Fifty-percent of their mutual aid calls were to assist Bland, Aytes told aldermen on Dec. 4.

Earlier this month, Bland’s chief, Mark Davis, stepped down from his leadership role with the fire district there. Doug Nochta, deputy chief, was named interim chief until the district’s board of directors meets again Monday, Jan. 8.

“They have Doug Nochta as their interim chief,” said Aytes in response Friday to a text for comment on the situation. “They have actually been doing better with responses lately.”

Nochta, a dispatcher in Franklin County for the past 16 years, said the problem is not new to rural communities.

“Volunteer departments are struggling to find volunteers and get people involved,” he told The Republican.

Nochta said their district went to an “automatic aid” system earlier this year for toning out neighboring volunteer departments to assist on structure fires and incidents such as motor-vehicle crashes with injuries.

“Owensville and Belle are automatically dispatched on our calls,” said Nochta. “It’s already an issue nationwide. We just rely on each other. There’s a lot of agency-to-agency assistance. I just think it’s nationwide at this time.”

One member of the Bland fire district’s board of directors spoke with us this week but declined to comment in detail until after their Jan. 8 meeting. Davis spoke with our sister newspaper, The Maries County Advocate.

Our coverage continues on page 6 with additional reporting by Roxie Murphy of The Maries County Advocate’s staff.