Mt. Pleasant firefighters want every household to help
By Rossilynne Skena Culgan
Published: Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Mt. Pleasant Township firefighters want the township to charge an annual $30 fee per household to help fund the stations, under the message that fire service is dangerous and “safety is not free.”
“We would like to charge a fire residency fee,” said Don Hill, chief of the Trauger station. “ ... Our goal is to improve our fire equipment, hose houses and receive training.”
Volunteer fire departments face lagging interest in their fundraisers blamed on a poor economy, paired with exploding costs for fire engines, according to firefighters who on Wednesday attended a news conference announcing the proposal.
Nine people representing four of the five departments in the township were on hand.
The township is home to five volunteer fire departments, all in existence since the mid-1940s: Calumet, Hecla, Kecksburg, Norvelt and Trauger.
Fire officials said that in 1975, a fire engine cost about $40,000; in 1994, $140,000; and today, between $350,000 to $400,000.
Simply keeping fire station doors open costs about $50,000 per year.
And fundraisers, they say, can't foot the bill.
“We're doing all these fundraisers just to keep our heads above the water — barely,” said Dave Trout, chief of the Kecksburg company.
Every household — regardless of whether it is owned or rented — would pay the $30 fee. Businesses would pay a $100 annual fee.
“We're struggling to survive, and we need help,” Trout said.
In sum, the Mt. Pleasant Township Emergency Services Association hopes to net $150,000 per year with the fee, which would divide to $30,000 per station.
The funds will be audited.
Three of the township's five stations are using equipment that's more than 25 years old, Hill said.
“They are not safe,” Hill said. “It has to be replaced.”
On average, township trucks are 1987-era, Hill said. Though the departments have been successful with grants for equipment, he said, federal funds are withering.
A fire-fighting uniform alone, or “turnout gear,” costs nearly $10,000 per person.
That includes a helmet, a radio, gloves, pants, boots and an air pack.
For now, the companies survive on fundraising, Hill said. Crews spend 60 percent of their time fundraising; 40 percent on actual fire calls and training.
Volunteers “need to take more time training, rather than fundraising,” said Rick Balchik, chief of the Norvelt company.
The township covers fuel costs, as well as workers compensation, collision insurance and liability costs.
The duty to provide fire protection falls on the township, Hill said.
“We don't want to charge you,” Hill said. “ ... But unfortunately, if we don't and we all fail, the municipality is going to have to take over fire (protection).”
A township-sponsored, paid department would cost even more money, Hill said.
Township supervisors would have to vote on the levy, and the firefighters association is pushing for that vote to happen this year.
If approved, taxpayers would begin paying in 2013.
The firefighters association is planning a public meeting, tentatively set for 7 p.m. Nov. 13 at Roosevelt Hall at the Norvelt station, aimed at informing citizens about the proposal.
Rossilynne Skena is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6646 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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