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Newtown Township fire protection study advises significant change in system

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The results of the long-awaited 2018 fire and emergency services study are in and boy, the 62-page report is packing a punch.

Municipal fire protection consultant Harry Carter, who conducted the study at a cost of $30,000, is recommending many changes to the way the township protects its citizens against fire, not the least of which is combining the nine-member paid emergency services staff, headed by Chief Glenn Forsyth, with the all-volunteer Newtown Fire Association (NFA), headed by Chief Matt Gerhard.

“A combination fire department is one department that operates under the same constitution and bylaws,” said Carter at the township’s Jan. 23 Board of Supervisors meeting. “Right now, you have a career staff and you have a volunteer staff but they operate like parallel units going down the road.

“What I’m suggesting is that they come together and the rank structure be changed so that you have deputies and battalion chiefs and lieutenants in each station.”

Currently, the paid staff protects the township and neighboring Newtown Borough from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and the volunteers guard both from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. weekdays and on weekends. NFA also provides coverage during the 12 holidays on which the township is closed.

While there are 45 among the ranks, Carter says he doesn’t think enough volunteers show up on weekends so he is recommending more paid staff work so that they can work seven days a week but that’s not all.

He’d also like to see a new fire station built on Sycamore Street that would be more centrally located to fires that erupt in Newtown.

Currently, the two villages are served by Station 55 on Municipal Drive in the township and Station 45 on Liberty Street in the borough.

While the fire safety consultant found that response times fell within acceptable parameters – between nine minutes, five seconds and 10 minutes, 30 seconds – Carter says there’s room for improvement because those times did not include discovery, reporting and dispatch.

And Carter – who served as a battalion commander with the Newark Fire Department until he retired in 1999 – thinks new firefighting equipment is needed in Newtown.

In addition to the purchase of a 75-foot ladder truck and a quick response vehicle, he wants the township to immediately move toward replacing an aging pumper that it still uses on a daily basis.

Perhaps the more overriding crisis on the horizon for the way the township protects against fire is the fact that volunteerism in the industry continues to decline, both statewide and nationally.

In November, a near 100-page Pennsylvania legislative study released findings saying there were about 300,000 volunteer firefighters statewide in the 1970s, a number that’s fallen to about 38,000 currently.

Combine all that with a 300 percent increase in calls departments are responding to and what you are left with is a type of burnout the average citizen in Newtown would not be willing to endure.

“The existing and future population that can reasonably be expected to evolve may not be of a type and kind ... willing to become active volunteer members of the fire department,” said Carter.

This year, $1,043,537 is earmarked for the township’s emergency services, and the 2019 budget also includes $175,100 to fund the Newtown Fire Association.

There is $75,000 set aside in the capital budget for the purchase of a new fire truck.

A basic fire engine costs $300-400,000 and goes up from there. A ladder truck starts at $700,000 and the extras that go on the rigs can run $100-150,000 or more. And according to Carter, the cost of a station he helped replace 10 years ago in his hometown of Adelphia, N.J., surpassed $4.5 million.

In other matters

... the supervisors voted unanimously to grant a conditional use permit to FairyGene Inc., a company that seeks to mix makeup at a facility located in the 100 block of Friends Lane in Newtown Business Commons.

... the supervisors voted unanimously to grant a stormwater management waiver to Bucks County Community College which is planning an improvement project to beautify the outdoor campus.

... the supervisors voted 4-1 in favor of a resolution authorizing the application for a Department of Community & Economic Development (DCED) Early Intervention Program Grant. Board Member Kyle Davis was the lone holdout.

... the supervisors voted 4-1 in favor of a resolution allocating $40,000 in funds matching the DCED Grant. Again, Davis said, “no.”

... the supervisors voted unanimously in favor of the purchase of three new police vehicles from Fred Beans, with $36,000 in lighting and equipment for the cop cars.

The board also unanimously approved a measure to advertise a $94,000 bid on a pair of new police motorcycles. The funding for the motorized bikes through a Keystone Communities Grant that was secured with the help of state Rep. Perry Warren (D–31).


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