The day after Se-Wy-Co and Leithsville volunteer fire companies announced their formal merger--the first in the history of Northampton County--Hellertown Borough Manager Cathy Kichline and Lower Saucon Township Manager Jack Cahalan discussed how the Saucon Valley's four all-volunteer companies continue to cooperate to better serve local residents.
In a presentation to members of the Hellertown-Lower Saucon Chamber of Commerce that focused on projects involving intermunicipal cooperation, Cahalan said necessity has been a driving force behind the movement toward fire company consolidation.
Years ago, he said, many of the volunteer members of Se-Wy-Co, Steel City, Southeastern and Dewey fire companies worked shifts at Bethlehem Steel, which helped to ensure the availability of volunteers during daytime hours.
Today, however, many volunteers work daytime jobs outside the Saucon Valley.
As a result, smaller fire companies such as Leithsville began to face critical manpower shortages.
"That was something that was brought to the attention of the borough council and the township council," Cahalan said.
In response to the challenge faced by volunteers, Cahalan said the township and the borough instituted a "put down your shovel" policy that allows public works employees to respond to daytime fire calls.
There are currently five or six public works employees who are also volunteer firefighters, he said.
Equally important is the fact that all of the local volunteers are cross-trained on each other's equipment and able to access it if they are first to arrive at a firehouse after a call goes out, even if it's not at their "home company."
"Really, operationally, it’s almost as if they are one (company)," he said of this agreement to share resources among personnel.
Cahalan noted the enormous costs associated with outfitting and maintaining fire company equipment, and said further consolidation of the four remaining companies could yield savings.
In the meantime, Kichline said, the borough and township will continue to apply for casino grants from the Northampton County Gaming Revenue and Economic Redevelopment Authority, which have recently helped to fund various needs of the volunteer fire companies.
"We want to keep that money flowing in here to support those services," Cahalan said.