Carlisle Borough Council will take a multipronged response to issues raised in the recently released report from a state commission that had been established last year to bolster fire and rescue services.
The report, released last week, includes recommendations such as increasing state-directed recruitment and retention efforts and increasing state support for tax and tuition breaks for volunteer firefighters. The recommendations also suggest that the state streamline and incentivize regionalization projects, helping to merge local fire services into larger units that are easier to manage and finance.
Area fire companies haven’t been immune to Pennsylvania’s volunteer staffing crisis, detailed in a state report issued this week, as consolida…
Representatives from Union Fire Company, Carlisle Fire & Rescue Services and Cumberland Goodwill EMS attended Wednesday’s borough council meeting to discuss issues with volunteer recruitment and regionalization.
Recruitment has been a challenge for both Union and Carlisle Fire & Rescue. Josh Bramble, assistant chief of Union Fire Company in Carlisle, said volunteers used to fight for spots on the fire apparatus when it went out and would be disappointed that they didn’t have as many hours on the schedule as they wanted. Now, it takes several emails to get people on the schedule.
“This is a growing issue. We’re not getting ready to go over a cliff, but we are in a steady, downhill acceleration,” said Mike Snyder, president of Carlisle Fire & Rescue.
Bramble said Carlisle has an opportunity to be ahead of the curve and set an example for other areas in setting up a regional system to assist struggling fire companies.
Already, the borough’s fire companies rely on mutual aid from its neighbors for incidents like structure fires.
“It’s been quite a few years since we’ve been able to handle things internally to the borough. It’s very important that you maintain a regional mindset because that is going to be the future,” Snyder told the council.
Snyder said the companies will need start talking to their neighbors about how they can cooperate with each other, and that it’s a process that can start early next year.
Bramble said it is also important to find ways to ease the financial burden in fire companies who have to conduct fundraisers to provide an essential service to the community.
Though the fire companies have been “fiercely independent,” Bramble said leadership at both companies understand they have to give up some of that independence and rely on each other. That’s led the way to cooperation between the fire companies that old timers remember used to have bitter rivalries.
“It’s now a great relationship, and we need to expand it on a regional basis,” Bramble said.
Fire company representatives know that regionalizing may not be easy, and that there may be pushback.
“I personally believe that the minute that somebody thinks that their name is going to come off the side of the fire truck, that’s going to be the thing. That’s not my vision,” said Chief Jeffrey Snyder of the Carlisle Fire Department.
He said his vision is that the companies retain their identities while working together.
Mayor Tim Scott said the topic of regionalization will be on the agenda for the quarterly meeting of the borough and surrounding municipalities that the borough hosts in January.
The borough will also advocate for the legislation at the state level to address issues facing volunteer fire companies as well as set up a working group with representatives of fire companies in and around Carlisle to discuss potential avenues for regionalization.