Boro expresses concern for local fire companies

By on February 6, 2019

Additional funding, volunteers needed

The fire companies of Ephrata Borough — Lincoln and Pioneer — are excellent in the performance of their duties, through their efficiency and dedication, said councilman Ricky Ressler at the meeting of Ephrata Borough Council on Feb. 4.

“They can be counted on to come out, any time of the day or night, no matter what kind of weather, or dangerous situations,” Ressler said. But gratitude and the appreciation of a community are not enough to keep the fire companies afloat.

Funding is needed for both companies, the sooner the better. At a public safety committee meeting held at the end of January, Pioneer’s Fire Chief Mike Kiefer and firefighter Ken Weber presented the company’s Long Range Planning Committee findings. The meeting had been specifically advertised and open to the public, Ressler said.

“They gave an extensive presentation and it’s a very important issue that we need to be aware of in the borough,” Ressler said. The outlook is concerning, Ressler said, simply because the companies are not getting the funds, the resources, and the volunteers they need to continue into the future.

“The Pioneer Fire Hall itself is an aging building, having been built about 40 years ago,” Ressler said, explaining that a new building is needed, but enough funding is not available. “With the presentation, this isn’t something they expect us to solve, but they’re asking us to look at studies, to look for recommendations, find things they could do…and what we do for one company, we’ll do for both.”

A recent fund drive in the borough found only 16 percent of the population returning a donation of any kind, Ressler said.

“Many people think that their taxes help to fund fire companies, but that’s not the case,” Ressler said. “The fire companies are looking at a lack of funding, a lack of volunteers, and infrastructure, and they’re not able to keep up with the demands of today.” Municipalities generally add a donation to their fire companies in the annual budget but it’s not enough to cover all costs.

“All the fire companies across the state are running into these problems,” Ressler told the council members. A few years ago, Pennsylvania could boast a contingent of 300,000 volunteers who helped to fight fires. Today, that number is 36,000, Ressler said.

“That’s a big drop in numbers,” Ressler said. “When a call comes in, they should have at least five people; one to drive the engine, the others to man the hoses and equipment — and that can be problematic, depending on the time of day.” Reasons for the drastic drop in volunteers range from people being busy, all adults in the household having full-time jobs, and no inclination to volunteer.

Councilman Tim Barr weighed in, saying the borough fire companies don’t have the resources needed to put on big money-making fundraisers, as do some other companies.
While several of the borough’s firefighters have moved out of the area, a few continue to volunteer, even though they live a significant distance from the borough, Barr said, praising their dedication.

“I am concerned because there are a lot of old houses, old rental properties in the borough, and if one would go, we could expect a whole row of buildings (to burn),” Barr said, emphasizing the need for the fire companies. Fires, in general, have become bigger and more complicated to fight, Ressler added.

“We have excellent fire companies — second to none — and we would not want to come to the situation where the whole thing would collapse,” Ressler said. “We all need to remember that fires don’t put themselves out.”

The borough’s Public Safety Committee will continue to address these concerns and look for remedies, Ressler said.

In other business, a number of council members investigated an ice complaint from resident Russ Shirker, who lives on Maple Street on the northern side of the borough. Shirker came to a committee meeting recently, asking borough members to see the ice for themselves.

Water from springs on the mountainous area behind that area of the borough drain by gravity and have formed an ice floe on the sidewalk and street, said councilman Victor Richard.

“It was a mess,” Richard said. “Obviously, this is an issue that should be looked into. The ice is a couple inches thick, covers the roadway, and Shirker’s property is getting the lion’s share of the ice. We need to see what can be reasonably done.”

Council member Ressler agreed, suggesting that borough highway staff look into the matter and recommended the borough engineer be consulted. In a related matter, Police Chief William Harvey told council of two water breaks that occurred in the borough the last weekend of January.

“Those were the most brutal conditions we’ve had to work under in a long time,” Harvey said, referring to the single-digit temperatures and accompanying winds.

“We had a great bunch of individuals out there that we can be proud of,” Harvey said. “We can be thankful we have crews that come out in any kind of weather.”

In other business, borough members discussed the borough paying the electric bill for the World War II Winter’s Memorial, adding it to the borough’s list of free electric properties.
The borough already provides free electric to the Ephrata Development Organization offices at the railroad station.

The Community Services Committee recently reviewed the Warwick to Ephrata Rail Trail application for trail use though multiple municipalities, council member Linda Martin said.The Warwick Recreation Center will maintain a calendar for all requests for using the trail, ensuring there aren’t any conflicts in booking. The committee is recommending approval of the application at the Feb. 11 borough meeting.

The Highway Committee is recommending that the borough approve an ordinance prohibiting parking on the north side of West Locust Street between Park Avenue and Spruce Alley.
Looking ahead, council is expected to approve a request from Kim and Mark Malmer to use streets in the Lincoln Heights section of the borough for a benefit 5K and 10K race event and fun run of a mile or less on Saturday, March 30.

Signs and volunteers will be at each intersection to direct runners and help with traffic control. The request should be approved, subject to Chief Harvey’s approval. Council also reviewed a request from the Ephrata Recreation Center to conduct the 2nd Annual Memorial Day 5K Race, also using streets in the Lincoln Heights section of the borough on Monday, May 27. Profits from the event will benefit the Rec Center youth programs.

Marylouise Sholly is a correspondent for The Ephrata Review. 

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