The hard financial times of the past few years have led many jurisdictions to consider restructuring, consolidating, and merging their fire departments. Nationwide, parts of the country that never considered regionalization before have taken bold steps in an effort to provide a more economical level of services.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development there have been approximately 75 consolidations and mergers of fire and EMS departments in Pennsylvania since 1998, affecting roughly 162 fire and EMS organizations. The movement to consolidate goes against not only the classic resistance to change that has long been a hallmark of the fire service, but in many locales it goes against the grain of a long history of independent fire companies, making the transition that much harder to accomplish.
Against this backdrop, a 105 year old Pennsylvania volunteer fire company finds itself embroiled in a lawsuit with local government officials who forced it to stop responding to alarms…. sort of.
Stowe Township was served by three volunteer fire departments: West Park Volunteer Fire Department, Fleming Park Volunteer Fire Department and Presston Volunteer Fire Department (aka Independent Hose Co. No. 5). When the township sought to merge the three department in 2006, Presston balked citing (among other things) the accumulated debt of the other two companies.
According to Presston officials, the West Park and Fleming Park companies owe $700,000 for the purchase of two fire trucks, and neither the township’s payments, nor the companies’ fundraising efforts and donations are enough to cover the expenses.
After a long administrative battle with the township, Presston decided not to merge with the newly formed Stowe Township Volunteer Fire Department, leading the township to end the fire company’s right to respond. In Pennsylvania, a fire department must be sponsored/certified by a municipality for it to operate.
In a very interesting move reminiscent of a great chess match, the Presston Volunteer Fire Department opted to officially become a part of the McKees Rocks Volunteer Fire Department. McKees Rocks, a neighboring borough in Allegheny County, has seemingly welcomed the fire company with open arms. McKees Rocks Councilman Robert DiCicco boasted in March that the move doubled the size of their community’s fire department and may lower insurance premiums for area residents.
The latest move in the chess match came last week on August 13, 2010, when Stowe township filed a lawsuit against Presston VFD seeking payment of $119,523 for fire suppression equipment that Stowe says Presston VFD won't hand over after it changed the its affiliation to McKees Rocks. The lawsuit alleges that the equipment belongs to Stowe township.
For more on the story.