Cuts Hamper Firefighter Efforts To Save Church

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NORTON, Ohio -- A fire that destroyed a Summit County church might not have been as bad if residents in the city had supported recent levies to fund the fire department. That's the message from Norton Fire Department Chief Mike Schultz.

A fire late Wednesday destroyed The Father's House church on Wadsworth Road.

Firefighters received the call at about 11:30 p.m. on Wednesday. It took several hours and several fire departments to get the flames under control.

Schultz says response time is much slower since staffing had to be cut when the levy failed back in March. There are no firefighters on duty from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. A levy request in November of 2011 also failed.

"Due to our staffing cuts it took ten minutes to get the first engine on the scene and that engine only had one firefighter in it. So our operations were pretty much hampered right out of the gate," Schultz said. "On election day we need to pass our fire levy to get our guys back to work."

Father's House pastor Mike Guarnieri says it took an hour to get water to the fire. He hopes residents will support the levy that will be on the November ballot so something like this doesn't happen in the future.

One firefighters suffered minor injuries when a portion of the church roof collapsed. He was taken to the hospital as a precaution, but is expected to be okay.

*Keep reading to see pictures of the blaze

Schultz is worried about what could happen at the next fire. "Functioning at this level is going to cost the life of a firefighter," he said.

Members of the Father's House came to the scene when they heard about the fire. The 16-year-old church has been in the current building for three years.

"It's pretty shocking, the congregation, a lot of them were here. There were some tears. A lot of emotions because you have memories there," said Guarnieri.
 "We're just trying to pull together right now and we're trying to keep morale up so we can move into the future."

Guarnieri said the church recently had electrical work done and the fire appeared to be electrical in nature.

Schultz said it was too early to say what caused the fire. "At this time it doesn't appear to be anything suspicious," he said.

"With God's help, we're going to rebuild," said Guarnieri. "Fortunately, we have insurance and we're just going to go from here."

Stick with Fox 8 News and FOX8.com for updates as they become available.