Volunteer firefighter and supervisor Brian Stuart wasn’t trained in fire school to fight this type of fire. Sparks flew at the August 20 Lackawaxen Township meeting between one of the Lackawaxen Fire Commission departments, Greeley, and representatives from the fire commission, whose mission is to pool resources from the four fire departments in the township.
Fueling the flame was Greeley’s desire to withdraw from the commission after their commitment is up at the end of the year.
The four departments are Greeley, Central, Forest and Lackawaxen. The township fire commission was formed over three years ago in an attempt to cut costs for the township by banding together, giving the township leverage to negotiate favorable rates with vendors like gas companies and insurance agencies. And since all departments rely on donations for part of their funding, those efforts, too, would be consolidated, saving money on postage and easing pressure on residents who want to donate but who are torn between departments. The money raised is then divided up between departments.
That’s the theory. In practice, however, Greeley fire representatives said they are better off on their own.
“We never had a commission before, we survived, we did very well,” said Greeley fire chief Bob Schmidt. “We just don’t really want to participate in it because it’s going nowhere.”
He said his department gets good rates for services already, citing the fact that, last year, the company saved $240 on propane using their current company.
“Between the insurance and the fuel and the other stuff, we get it much cheaper than the commission is offering, so naturally, we wouldn’t go with the commission,” said Greeley Fire Department president Joyce Robertson.
Fire commission president John Kerkowsky said he appreciates that Greeley has made good deals to cut costs, but the buying power of the commission could take those savings to a new level. The commission has done a fuel study to try to get the best bulk fuel rate, and is waiting to receive an umbrella insurance policy quote from two competing insurance companies, one of which Greeley is using now. He predicted a consolidated policy could save the township anywhere from $4,000 to $6,000, but success hinges on one major factor.
“We’re trying to work for the common good,” Kerkowsky said. “Unless everybody agrees to sign on to it, it’s not going to be effective. It has to be a team effort.”
Greeley does not want to play for that team. Schmidt said the Greeley department usually raises $18,000 to $25,000 in fundraising a year. They only received $6,000 so far from the first consolidated mailing, while a second mailing is coming in the fall.
Schmidt admitted that the department is not operating in the red. In fact, it receives $89,000 a year from the township for maintenance and upkeep. But the approximate $12,000 shortfall in donations will affect other initiatives and investments, like kids programs, fire safety education and station kitchen upgrades.
Through all the smoke, chairman of the supervisors Brian Stuart sees hope that someday there will be a unified township fire commission.
“There might come a day where someone in the fire company says, ‘you know what, I have a ton of experience—what’s this fire commission about?’ and you can get them involved.”
In the meantime, it seems the only thing all departments are unified on is the mission to keep their communities safe from the flames they’re trained to fight.