Controversial bill could set stage to force township fire takeover


Indiana lawmakers say they're tired of waiting for three hold out fire departments to consolidate with IFD.

So they've crafted a bill that would allow the City of Indianapolis to force Decatur, Wayne and Pike townships into its ranks. The West Side Chamber of Commerce just passed a resolution against the bill.

"The community didn't have any input," said Wayne Township Fire Chief Gene Konzen.

"Personally, I think it stinks," said Bruce Jennings, who fought fires for more than 20 years in Pike Township before an injury forced retirement.

From the firehouse to the Statehouse, Jennings has battled takeover talk before.

"Take their fire departments. Take their money, you know, make them all under IFD control," he said, summarizing previous failed attempts.

A bill passed by the House and now awaiting a hearing in the Senate would give Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard and the City-County Council the right to force the three townships into the Indianapolis Fire Department with an up or down vote.

Five townships have already consolidated with IFD. Lawmakers want one countywide department. Bill sponsors say Pike, Wayne and Decatur need to get on board.

"We are the only incorporated city in Indiana that has township fire departments instead of one local fire department," said State Representative Cindy Kirchhofer (R-Beech Grove).

Kirchhofer and Representative Dan Forestal (D-Indianapolis) are behind the push, trying to finish what former Mayor Bart Peterson couldn't. Past efforts to consolidate township government have gone down in political flames.

Under the new proposal, township trustees and advisory boards would keep their jobs. Only the fire service would merge.

Township trustees see it as a hostile takeover.

"What I would say to that is, from their point of view, it's a little more political than it is for me," responded Forestal, who also works with IFD. 

Forestal says consolidating Pike, Wayne and Decatur would come with similar promises five other departments were guaranteed - no lapse in response times, no new tax increases and fair job offers and benefits from IFD.

Still, career firefighters are split.

"We all work together, so that part isn't going to change if we change the names on here, but the fact that they want to take us over, I'm not sure what benefit it would get," argues Chief Konzen.

"This is about public safety. Improving the response times and improving the efficiencies of the crews on the ground," countered State Representative Randy Frye, who hung up his IFD hat in 2010 after more than 20 years of service.

Frye was a part of the first merger with Washington Township.

"We don't do our trash pickup by township. We don't do our police protection by township. We don't plow our snow by township. Why would we do our fire by township?" questioned Frye.

Yet he and others know it's a tough sell because of the power it would give Mayor Ballard and the City-County Council without township consent.

13 Investigates asked Frye, "Why have a bill that comes in and says we're going to take it now?"

"Well, I guess because they aren't doing it," he responded.

Pike Township Trustee Lula Patton and Decatur Township Trustee Steve Rink are adamantly opposed to the bill. Patton says Pike provides excellent services and residents there are not asking for a merger.

Rink says some of his young firefighters are rebels and want to merge to make more money and for 18 additional days off.

View the resolution