For Station 61 of the Clinton Township Division of Fire, the title "First Responder" goes beyond fire or medical emergencies.
The station, which is one of the smallest in Franklin County, knows the importance of teamwork, and uses outreach programs to build a strong bond with their community. Through several partnerships, Fire Chief Brian Fraley and his company support the community in ways of safety, health, and wellness programs.
"These programs give the firefighters a chance to connect with the community in a positive experience," said Chief Fraley. "When people usually see firefighters, it's during a time of an emergency or crisis. These interactions allow us to see the other side of the people we serve, and vice versa."
While some of the newer outreach programs have developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic - the firehouse has served as a testing site and hosted a vaccine clinic on April 30 - one of the most popular has emerged from a different type of crisis.
After the lone grocery store in the area shut down in 2018, the township became what is known as a "food desert", where many community members were left without reasonable access to fresh food and produce.
As is customary in the time of an emergency, Chief Fraley answered the call. A partnership with Franklin County Public Health established the Clinton Township Community Health Action Team (CHAT), a committee that meets monthly and is comprised of public health officials, local businesses, and community members.
From there, Chief Fraley recognized an opportunity to be a source of aid outside his traditional job description. An application to the Mid-Ohio Food Collective launched the Clinton Township Produce Market, a bi-monthly program that provides families with free, fresh produce such as potatoes, onions, corn, and lettuce.
PHOTOS: Blue Jackets Alumni Distribute Food To Community
Food distribution started at the front doors of Station 61, but COVID-19 forced the program to pivot to an outdoor setting. Stops at the Columbus Metropolitan Library and other parking lots around the area allowed the service to continue before weather conditions presented another challenge for an outdoor environment.
Again Chief Fraley adjusted, turning the fire station into a drive-thru, contactless food pantry. For almost a year now, the doors at Station 61 open bi-monthly as firefighters organize and sort produce for, on average, 125 families and distribute 5,000+ pounds of food.
The quantifiable impact of the food market is apparent. The underlying message, however, showcases a group of first responders willing to lift their community in a time of need.
"The market has provided 280,000 pounds of food to more than 4,600 families, but it's an opportunity to connect residents to resources from our community partners," said Justine Barr, CHAT Coordinator.
On April 23, Blue Jackets alumni Jody Shelley and Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre turned in their microphones for disposable gloves and joined the community effort. Shelley and Grand-Pierre enjoyed conversation and laughs with firefighters and volunteers while packing more than 50 vehicles with produce.
"There's a sense of need and a sense of giving back to the community," said Shelley. "We can do more. We're in a position to help this community, and it's nice to be here today to do it."
The event concluded with a special invitation to First Responders Night, presented by Jet's Pizza. Along with pizza for the firefighters and volunteers, Jet's provided 50 tickets for Station 61 to see the Blue Jackets take on the Predators tomorrow night.
A night at Nationwide Arena will certainly give these first responders a mental break from the daily wear and tear of the job. But for Chief Fraley, participating in various community outreach programs provides mental health and wellness for his company.
"We go into this profession because we want to help people," the fire chief smiles. "These opportunities mean as much to us as we hope it means to the community."
For more information on First Responders Night, visit www.bluejackets.com/firstrespondersnight.