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Hempfield fills out fire bureau committee

| Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, 11:00 p.m.

Hempfield's board of supervisors on Monday appointed the final members of a nine-person panel to centralize policies and purchasing for the township's 12 volunteer fire departments in an effort to save money and reduce the departments' reliance on fundraising.

The board's appointments of Anthony Marquis, Amber Werner, John Storey and Michael Wolford filled out the new Bureau of Fire Committee, formed this year as an advisory committee to the supervisors.

The bureau will be funded by $1.5 million a year over the next 20 years, which came from the township's agreement to sell its sewer system to the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County. The funding will cover the day-to-day costs of the fire departments and the purchasing of equipment, which previously were handled by each department through fundraising with some reimbursement from the township.

“Now that they're paying for trucks and paying the bills, this organization was created to oversee that and to make sure it's fair across the board,” said Greg Saunders, chief of the Bovard Volunteer Fire Department, president of the Hempfield Fire Chiefs Association and one of the first five members appointed to the board. “It makes it a lot easier on the firefighters to do less fundraising and more training.”

He pointed to the growing difficulties of fundraising and the rising costs of equipment — a fire engine in 1998 cost about $300,000, but now goes for more than $500,000 — as good reasons to accept the township's support.

Township manager Andrew Walz said the board also included himself, assistant manager and public safety director Bruce Beitel, and firefighters Don Thoma and Shaun Teacher. Beitel will be its chairman.

While the committee will be responsible for weighing decisions related to running the fire departments, final authority will remain with the board of supervisors, Walz said.

Departments like Bovard that also operate social halls will continue to be responsible for paying for their operations, while the township will pay for the garage and fire equipment, Saunders said. Bovard planned to install separate utility meters for the garage and the social hall so members could send the garage's bills directly to the township.

Matthew Santoni is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724 836 6660 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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