The activity of volunteer fire companies has become more difficult to sustain. Can collaboration help? | Spotlight on Pa

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Benner Township, Pennsylvania – Volunteer fire companies face many common funding and staffing stressors. Is there strength in unity if some choose to tackle problems together?

This is a central question being asked by five fire companies in the Nittany Valley area of ​​Center County as they plan to participate in an upcoming pro bono study by the state Department of Community and Economic Development.

The companies – Logan and Undine Fire Companies in Bellefonte, Pleasant Gap Fire Company, Howard Fire Company and Walker Township Fire Company – are run entirely by volunteers, as 90 percent of fire departments in Pennsylvania. This means that they are independent organizations that operate on their own, although many receive taxpayer funding and mutual aid agreements between companies are commonplace.

In recent decades, the activity of volunteer fire companies has become more difficult to sustain. Volunteering has declined. Donations became less reliable and many traditional fundraising activities were interrupted during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. Stricter requirements – like someone spending around 180 hours in training before they can join fire and rescue missions – have deterred recruitment and retention.

For some, including Floyd Wise, who worked in fire and rescue services in Harrisburg and is now a consultant for DCED’s Regional Fire Service Assistance Program, fire companies can solve these problems. thanks to better collaboration between neighboring departments and increased support from local governments.

“Fire companies are a player in a big game,” Wise said in August, during a meeting with representatives of Nittany Valley-area fire companies.

A new fire truck these days can cost upwards of $1 million, Wise said, meaning fire companies will have to budget for years to come to make such essential purchases.

The costs “will only increase”, he added. Wise said local governments will likely have to take on some of those financial responsibilities soon, which could mean tax increases.

Fire companies must “deal with it collectively”, he said.

With the proposed study, fire companies will gather and submit current operational information, including call volume, response time, staffing and qualification, financials, and equipment status and facilities.

Wise will identify each company’s inefficiencies, inconsistencies in the policies governing them, and make recommendations for improvement.

Fire companies will ultimately decide whether or not to adopt the recommendations from the study. Some representatives at the August meeting expressed interest in cost-cutting measures such as consolidating purchases for discounts.

While representatives said the economy of scale is an attractive aspect of a collaborative relationship, fire companies are reluctant to consider the more drastic potentials of a “regionalization” plansuch as mergers and consolidations, due to logistical issues and the threat to the identity of individual companies.

Related Reading: A Cooperative Agreement Between Two Volunteer Fire Companies Begins Next Month

Previous studies the DCED program has produced have focused primarily on one municipality, and this case — involving the townships of Benner, Spring, Marion and Walker, as well as the borough of Bellefonte — is unique, Wise said.

“Sharing relationships,” he said, will be crucial for many fire companies, but success can also come from better understanding what it takes to successfully run volunteer fire companies in the world. within the communities they serve.

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