The South Strabane Volunteer Fire Department is at an impasse with township officials over the future of the service.
Last month, the fire department sent a letter to township residents criticizing the board of directors and township manager Brandon Stanick for failing to honor an agreement to make quarterly payments to the department.
“For the year 2020, payment was not received from the municipality until November of the same year, 11 months late. For the year 2021, no payment has been received at the time of writing this letter, ”the letter said.
In a second letter, dated October 18, the ministry says it owes it $ 110,000, which is 40% of its budget. The department operates independently from the township and funds the remainder of its budget through donations and fundraising efforts.
Fire Chief Scott Reese said he was not involved in drafting the letters and declined to comment. Cory Gaiser, acting president of the fire company, also declined to comment.
Stanick confirmed that the township made no payments to the fire company this year.
The agreement, dated June 14, 2005, states that the municipality will make quarterly payments at the end of March, June, September and December, but it does not specify any dollar amounts.
For the fire department, the agreement says it will provide fire protection services to the township, along with a monthly fire call report.
According to Stanick, the township is not satisfied with the current service provided by the fire department and the service has pushed back the township’s efforts to improve services.
“Their response to calls is inconsistent,” Stanick said. He said the department does not answer all calls, and when it does, there are not enough people on site.
The South Strabane Fire Department consists of both volunteers and paid staff at two stations, one on East Maiden Street and the other on Oak Springs Road. There are currently nine paid firefighters, with another scheduled to start work before the end of the year, according to Stanick.
However, Stanick said South Strabane is struggling with the same problem that many fire departments have – a drop in the number of volunteers.
“The South Strabane Fire Department is no different. We only have 12 members, a challenge to provide efficient and effective services, ”said Stanick.
Stanick said the township’s goal is not only to improve the service provided by the department, but also to provide 24/7 fire and emergency services.
The first letter sent by the fire department says the service’s career firefighters work Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., while volunteers are responsible for covering the remaining 88 hours of the week.
The letter also criticizes the township for purchasing a fire truck earlier this year for $ 130,000. The department claims it was not made aware of the purchase and that it was an unnecessary expense as the truck purchased is over 20 years old.
“This used device on its first trip to South Strabane Township sustained a flat tire on Interstate 79, causing the truck to veer into the median,” the letter said.
Stanick said the truck was purchased to maintain current service levels and take one step closer to 24/7 service availability.
Last year, at a cost of $ 15,000, the township commissioned a study on how to improve fire services in the community, according to Stanick. Jerry Ozog, executive director of the Pennsylvania Fire and Emergency Services Institute, wrote the study. The study began in August 2020 and the final report is dated December 2020.
“Members of the volunteer fire department, career staff, township management and township supervisors have actively participated and should be commended for their honesty and desire to improve themselves,” Ozog writes in the introduction to the study.
Once Ozog finished the study, however, the cooperation ended, Stanick said.
“We brought in a consultant to help us with strategic planning with volunteers,” Stanick said. “At the end of this process, they rejected the consultant’s findings. “
The 49-page report lists 16 recommendations on how the township could revamp the fire department, how it operates, and how to effectively recruit and retain volunteers.
“This document presents a way for these entities to come together and form a new system, which the study calls the South Strabane Fire Emergency System,” Stanick said.
Under the proposal, the fire department would remain a combination of career firefighters and volunteers. It would be headed by an executive committee made up of the volunteer president; volunteer treasurer; volunteer board member; director of the municipality; canton fire chief; the President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 5006; two commune supervisors; and a citizen representative.
Under the executive committee, there would be four sub-committees to oversee the facilities, major appliances and equipment, professional standards and operations.
Currently, the fire department is managed by a board of directors.
The fire rescue system and its organizational structure would be established by municipal decree, according to the study.
The fire department’s second letter to residents said firefighters had rejected the study due to “the lack of proper support and communication from the township.”
“The township supervisory board and the township director wanted to have all the powers in the committee, which would leave career firefighters and volunteer firefighters without an appropriate contribution in all segments of the firefighting services. rescue, ”the letter reads.
In his first letter to the community, he expressed concern that the township is about to end its relationship with the volunteer service.
“The result will be a tax increase to cover the costs for the township to start operating its own fire department. Not only will the township have to hire fire service personnel, but it will have to procure new fire apparatus and installations to intervene. This is an unnecessary and costly action to take, ”the letter said.
In the follow-up letter, the department claims it would cost taxpayers up to $ 3.5 million per year.
However, Stanick said that was not the township’s intention.
“It’s contrary and inconsistent with what the board communicated to (the fire department),” Stanick said.