More than 30 days after Hempfield supervisors acknowledged potential issues in the fire department, changes could be coming to the command structure.
The goal is to have the township’s 12 volunteer fire departments report to one fire chief. Each station now has is own chief who reports to the Bureau of Fire during monthly meetings. Under that structure, the township has 12 reporting numbers that are used for reviews by New Jersey-based Insurance Services Offices Inc., or ISO.
Last month, ISO granted township officials a six-month extension to address issues like training, water flow, response times and emergency communications. If departments receive an unfavorable rating in those areas, property owners could see higher insurance premiums.
Changing the command structure is the first step toward addressing the issues.
“If we had one reporting number and everything was one, and Carbon showed up with one guy, Midway showed up with one guy, (Hempfield) No. 2 showed up with one guy and Grapeville showed up with one guy, that would look like we showed up with four people,” said Township Manager Jason Winters. “Right now, they only look like they showed up with one person each because they all have to report the incident separately.”
The proposed structure would divide the stations among three zones:
Those stations would have individual chiefs to run day-to-day operations. Above them would be a deputy fire chief to handle administration and training needs. That person would report to the township fire chief.
Winters said the command structure could be reorganized within the extended time frame, adding that changes would be made in stages. Westmoreland County then would have to approve the reporting number. Winters was unable to provide a timeline for that process.
“Where we are in six months might not be where we are in three years,” he said. “I think we take step one, coming together, and then from there start looking at overall operations.”
Officials also are moving forward with a service agreement that would set forth training regulations for stations.
Specific training hours would apply for interior firefighting and basic vehicle rescue operations. Annual hazardous materials and facility training hours also are laid out, along with separate training for driver operators and officers.
A service agreement draft provided to the Tribune-Review shows future plans for a Pennsylvania State Fire Academy essentials program that will cover hazardous materials, fire ground support, exterior and interior fires and advanced firefighter training.
“The fact is that ISO is coming up on us,” said Anthony Kovacic, director of fire and EMS. “We want to make sure that, if somebody calls for a fire department, we can respond.”
On May 14, supervisors will hold an additional public meeting to discuss Hempfield’s Bureau of Fire, command structure and service agreements. Supervisors will vote on documents starting at 7 p.m. at 1132 Woodward Drive.