Muncy Fire Companies move forward with plan to merge
CLARKSTOWN – With a well thought out plan and research thoroughly presented by Muncy Creek Township Supervisor, Richard Bitler, it was decided to go ahead and plan a merger between the Muncy Creek Township and Muncy Borough fire companies. A meeting open to the public was held last Thursday evening at the Clarkstown Fire Hall to present the data.
Bitler who was appointed spokesperson by the board committee explained why it is necessary to merge Station 30 and Station 29 at this time. “We are facing a man-power situation across the state,” he said. The single biggest issue is lack of volunteers and some fire companies are submitting to hiring paid firefighters to remain on staff.
The time demands for a firefighter are much greater now to handle emergencies. They must complete 150 hours of medical training, earn 120 hours of emergency certifications, do fundraising, and maintain the building and equipment, just to name a few. In addition, they are now required to take 10 more hours for hazardous materials training. With these demands it makes it harder to recruit and keep volunteers to run the fire companies. There is a major effect on retention and recruitment. With the more formal training, however, it may often hinder the time a volunteer wants to contribute.
Firefighters are now required to establish minimum competencies for The National Protection Association for Safety Awareness and standards that are adopted by all 50 states. There are also OSHA and EPA mandates, and all hazardous materials training is necessary, explained Bitler to the public.
He further stated that firefighters are forced to produce a broader range of services including fire alarms, bomb threats, gas leaks, vehicle accidents, water breaks, and all sorts of emergency calls.
There is a larger increase in call volume. The public is more dependent on automatic alarms. “Today people call an ambulance instead of driving to the hospital. Often fire departments are called for emergencies such as personal injuries and even electrical shortages. Being a volunteer fireman is just not fun anymore,” Bitler said during the presentation.
Malfunctioning alarm systems, 911 calls, and increased demands from the public are compounding the problem. For example, the fire department will get a call for an ambulance for stomach pain. “These often do not turn out to be true emergencies,” he said. “Members feel isolated. There is less time for socialization and recruitment and retention is hurting.”
Additionally, it is more difficult for firefighters to get time off from their employers to volunteer. There is also a restriction on the number of members allowed into a burning building at one time due to OSHA regulations, and with the aging population in our communities, it is more difficult to recruit younger members.
“There is an erosion of volunteer fire services in the United States. 75 percent of the fire companies are served by volunteers. It would cost 37.2 billion annually if we have to replace the departments with paid staff firefighters.”
A decision was made in June 2009 to look for ways to conserve funds and keep the fire departments in Muncy from closing. Manpower was getting worse, so a committee of official members was formed among Station 23 (Pennsdale), Station 29 and Station 30. A vote was taken by all 3 stations in January 2010. Pennsdale Station 23 opted out and the other two agreed on a merger.
A proposal was set up to call the new station #39 known as the Muncy Area Volunteer Fire Company. The process will take 3 to 5 years to combine both companies into one.
“No new fire station will be built until Station #29 in Clarkstown is sold,” assured Greg Delany, Chief of Muncy Creek Volunteer Fire Co. The merger would give the two fire departments a $75,000 a year savings in operating costs according to Delany. “Things will be reduced over a period of time,” he said. Personnel from both stations will be on the same truck and a consolidation of crews and schedules 7 days a week will add to the cost savings.
They also predict that fire insurance rates for citizens could get better. “It is not the intentions of the new fire department to ask the borough for a fire tax nor do they have taxing ability,” Bitler explained.
The two fire companies have been working to serve the communities since 1873 all year long in all types of weather, and now that there is limited manpower, the solution is to merge as decided by the committee. “Tax payers will have to pay out more big dollars if the two existing fire companies fail. These are the facts, we have an issue, we need to solve it, and this is what we are facing. The only thing to be afraid of is our future.” If the companies fail, the revenue from the buildings will not go back to the taxpayers and the communities, but rather into a state fund to be used for other projects.
Not everyone in the public was in agreement. Bud Neidig felt that there will be less time for volunteers to protect our citizens. He questioned the need for a new facility to be built. Neidig was told that a reduction in debt is one of the main goals, to liquidate assets and sell the buildings for their market value. The other goal was to build another building that would be centrally located to cover the entire Muncy area and be mortgage free. Bud Neidig expressed an interest in buying the Clarkstown building and asked the committee to “give him some numbers to look at.” He said that he could in turn, rent it out to the gas companies.
Another audience member asked about the Fogelman Rd. location for the new building. “This is just one idea so far”, they said. “We need a building to house 10 pieces of equipment with better rest rooms and maintenance facilities.”
The merger will form an organization within the next 15 to 20 days. However, the dissolution could take 3 to 5 years until the entire process is completed according to the committee. The Clarkstown building is not listed for sale yet, but the Garinger Social Hall in Muncy is currently for sale.
“We will only continue to do the fundraisers that pay off well,” Delany said. “We will have the gun show, but not bingo. After the merge, we won’t have to do as many fundraisers.”
So far the committee has received 3 estimates for a new building. “It will be put out for bid when the time comes,” said Chief Jamie Brelsford of Keystone Hook and Ladder. Public meetings will continue to be held as the merger progresses. “An introduction to the public on how the process is going will be given, so we can later make concrete decisions,” said Daniel Knapp, President of Keystone Hook and Ladder.
Bud Neidig also suggested to start liquidating some of the equipment now. Over 100 people were in attendance and a large show of hands went up when the committee asked who was in favor of the merger.