Whiteland officials tout reduced response times after town takes control of fire protection district

<p>A few years ago, when someone in the Town of Whiteland or Clark and Pleasant townships had a fire or other emergency, they often times waited more than 10 minutes for local firefighters and paramedics to respond.</p><p>With a recent merger of the town and Whiteland Fire Protection District, response times have improved significantly.</p><p>At the start of the new year, the area’s fire protection district was dissolved, and town leaders took over fire protection services. Now, firefighters are out the door in a matter of minutes, and response times top out at about 8 minutes, town officials said.</p><p>Whiteland town leaders took over managing the Whiteland Fire Protection District after voters in the area gave it the OK in a referendum last fall.</p>[sc:text-divider text-divider-title="Story continues below gallery" ]Click here to purchase photos from this gallery<p>Voters who lived in and around Whiteland were asked if they wanted the town to provide fire protection services in lieu of a fire protection board, which historically oversaw those services. Fire protection boards still oversee some districts locally and around the state, especially in rural areas that cannot be easily serviced by a town’s department.</p><p>That is no longer the case in Whiteland.</p><p>New neighborhoods are adding more than 700 homes to the community of about 4,300 people. Having a town-run fire department helps better coordinate the work needed to manage that population boom in the area, town officials have said.</p><p>The Whiteland Fire Protection District officially dissolved in early January, and the town took over fire protection services, which still includes parts of Clark and Pleasant townships, both boundaries for the fire protection district.</p><p>Now, the fire station is staffed at all times without having to increase its budget of about $250,000. And the town council and town manager have the oversight they need to get things, such as staffing and response times, on the right track.</p><p>The district extends west to Honey Creek Road and east to Interstate 65. It is bordered by Greenwood to the north and Franklin to the south, but does not cover New Whiteland, which is serviced by that town’s own fire department, according to newspaper archives.</p><p>Taxes didn’t go up, and the town inherited the department’s small budget. They’re making it work, said Norm Gabehart, Whiteland town manager.</p><p>Gabehart rearranged how the money was spent, and he and Eric Funkhouser, Whiteland’s fire chief, focused their efforts on having two people at the station 24 hours a day, seven days a week, which cut response times to between 3 and 8 minutes from the double digits, Funkhouser said.</p><p>The fire department has had about 70 runs since the commitment was ratified at the beginning of the year, Funkhouser said.</p><p>The fire protection board was previously told it would be tough to staff the fire station around the clock. Now, every part-time firefighter gets $120 for a full 24-hour shift. All it took was rearranging some of the money, prioritizing staffing levels rather than buying equipment, which the station has plenty of, Gabehart said.</p><p>Fire district budgets are handled by the Johnson County Council, the fiscal arm of the county. The move, which had been long discussed, kicked the fire department’s budget and oversight to the town.</p><p>&quot;It cut a layer of bureaucracy that performed the same task,&quot; Gabehart said. &quot;The town now has full autonomy over that. It allows us to speak our own voice.&quot;</p><p>Changes had already been made to bring fire protection services into the town’s jurisdiction. Fire protection board members approached the Whiteland Town Council about the change, and the town council approved it in a vote in 2017. The referendum ratified the agreement the fire protection board and town council made, Gabehart said.</p><p>The town council voted to allow the merger in an effort to improve public safety in Whiteland and its surrounding areas, Gabehart said.</p><p>&quot;Our community was about public safety on the merger,&quot; he said.</p>