David B. Nelson, III
The Ithaca Fire Department has transitioned over the years from a 100% volunteer organization to a paid-on call department. Over the years the department has had a membership as high as 75 volunteers in 1889 to the current membership of 21 paid on call members. The department throughout years has been wholly owned and operated by the City of Ithaca. The city has had a contractual agreement for many years with Arcada, Emerson, Lafayette, New Haven, Newark, and North Star townships for Fire and MFR (medical first response) services. That all changed in October of 2020 with the formation of the Gratiot Emergency Services Authority.
The conversation to form a fire authority started in 2010 when a couple of township supervisors ask at an Ithaca Fire budget meeting if we should look further into the future as to where the fire service is headed and if we were prepared for that future. In July of 2019 we finally had a serious discussion on the possibility of forming an authority when we realized that the need to fund, staff, train and equip our local fire department has never been greater and more challenging than it is today. The decisions made for the department in the past, for the most part, had been reactive by nature and had been made based on past needs. While that type of thinking has, to some degree, guided us forward, it had not necessarily prepared us well for the future. We determined as local leaders in the fire service we needed to take a more forward looking/planning approach to the fire service if we were going to maintain or improve both service levels to the community and safety levels for our staff and citizens we serve.