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Hampton's VFDs in early talks of possible merger

| Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
John Schwend, the chief of North Hampton Volunteer Fire Department, has had preliminary discussions about possibly merging with Hampton VFD No. 1.
John Schwend, the chief of North Hampton Volunteer Fire Department, has had preliminary discussions about possibly merging with Hampton VFD No. 1.

North Hampton Volunteer Fire Department and Hampton Volunteer Fire Department No. 1 may consider merging into one if studies prove it to be feasible.

The volunteer fire departments are in very preliminary steps of holding discussion to join forces, according to Chief John Schwend of the North Hampton VFD and Chief Dan Kuny of the Hampton VFD No. 1.

They want to start discussions on whether it makes sense to join together, looking at whether it would be financially beneficial while at the same time ensuring quality is not affected, as each chief noted.

The action was recently mentioned at the November Hampton Township council meeting by the township's municipal Manager Christopher Lochner, who noted it would be a long process.

“It's all about having a discussion on seeing if it's the best plan,” said Schwend. “Everything is still staying the same. Nothing is changing in the near future.”

North Hampton VFD and Hampton VFD No. 1 both serve the 16 square miles of Hampton Township, with the latter located on the southern portion. They are each funded by a fire tax through Hampton's taxpayers. And each is all volunteer, including the chiefs.

NHVFD, which opened in 1956, has two stations, with one on North Pioneer Road and the other on Wildwood Extension, said Schwend.

Hampton VFD 1 is located in Allison Park on Duncan Road and is currently celebrating its 100th year anniversary, said Kuny.

Schwend said it's important to do a study, perhaps hire a consultant and work with the township, to investigate if a merger is even feasible. Kuny said some kind of survey may also be conducted.

Both departments already respond to each other's emergency calls, said Schwend. So there won't be much change in that area. But efficiency and high quality is important. Schwend said they are performing well now, but said they need to make plans five or 10 years in the future

A big reason for this change is a shortage of volunteer firefighters, which has been a statewide concern.

Schwend, who is married and has a daughter, 11, said there seems to be less of a sense of volunteerism, and that the family structure is different than years prior, as two-income families mean different work schedules, and someone not at home in the case of childcare.

Daytime volunteers are particularly hard to come by, too, said Schwend.

“All departments are struggling. We can't get people to volunteer and donate their time weekly,” said Kuny.

North Hampton's roster is 30 to 35 volunteer firefighters, but really 20 to 25 come out to fight fires, said Schwend, who's been chief since 2009 and a firefighter since 2000.

Currently Hampton VFD has 25 on the roster but around 15 are active, said Kuny, who works full time as a mechanic. He has a son, 25, in the military.

A preferred number of volunteers would be one that has a waiting list with people wanting to volunteer and go out and give up their time during the week to assist calls, said Kuny.

Spending responsibly is also important, especially as equipment costs rise, said Schwend. For example, a pumper can cost around $500,000 and to outfit a firefighter for an emergency call can cost $10,000. And these things wear out and need replaced, said Schwend.

They also don't want to duplicate equipment, said Schwend. The VFDs offer mutual aid to neighboring municipalities, and vice versa, he said.

Kuny said it's important that quality does not suffer. He hopes that the Hampton VFD 1 station stays open as it is close to the more rural routes of the township, which could slow emergency vehicles already.

Kuny said they are grateful for monetary donations, but they need more donations of hours and days.

“I'd prefer that people see the value of time is more important than the value of money at times,” said Kuny, who has been with the department for 13 years and chief for five.

Natalie Beneviat is a Tribune-Review contributor.

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