The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

November 24, 2012

Fire department merger receives mixed reaction

By Marcia Moore
The Daily Item

HUMMELS WHARF — A proposal to merge the Hummels Wharf and Shamokin Dam fire departments is being mulled as a way of reducing costs and duplicated services.

The idea was initiated by Shamokin Dam Borough Council about a year ago, and the issue was turned over to the established fire task forces set up in each community.

Chad Gavason, chairman of the Shamokin Dam Fire Task Force and a former fire chief, said consolidation has to be considered as equipment costs rise and membership declines.

“Many fire companies in Pennsylvania are merging or consolidating,” he said. “We have two municipalities that could fund one fire company. We’re very open to the idea of it.”

Not everyone is convinced it’s the way to go despite encouragement from the state fire commissioner.

Hummels Wharf Deputy Fire Chief Jack Grove said his company is in good financial standing and doesn’t need to take on Shamokin Dam Fire Company’s debt of about $35,000.

Hummels Wharf receives about $25,000 each from Monroe Township, its fund drive, and its social hall yearly. The social hall profits also pay the building’s utility expenses. Assets include two engines, a tanker and utility vehicle. The fire company expanded the truck room in the past decade, plus several neighboring properties.

And, Grove said, with assets of about $3.8 million and a debt of about $750,000, “we’re in the best financial state we’ve ever been in.”

Shamokin Dam Fire Department is also in good financial shape, Chief Brad Aurand said.

The company has two engines, a utility vehicle and boat and receives about $52,000 a year from the borough, plus an undisclosed amount from fundraising efforts. While the truck room has no debt, the social hall is about $35,000 to $40,000 in the red, Aurand said.

“Right now we don’t have a financial problem, but down the road we might,” he said, adding that the shaky economy and declining number of volunteer firefighters is forcing the consolidation discussion. “We’re interested in the future.”

With the fire stations less than two miles apart and each having an active membership of about 20 firefighters who invariably show up at the same calls, Aurand said it makes little sense to pay double for buildings, vehicles and equipment.

“We have 34 air packs we must maintain and not enough people to use them,” Gavason said.

Despite the support for a merger, Grove said he won’t take part in the discussion since a proposal to eliminate Shamokin Dam’s fire company and have Hummels Wharf provide fire service through a contract was rejected outright.

“Things are going well for us. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” he said.

A meeting of the two fire company task forces is scheduled for 7 p.m. Dec. 12 at the Hummels Wharf Fire Company.

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