The Fire Companies, the Fitch Report and Whitemarsh’s New Fire Services Plan

During the Monday, November 21st special meeting of Whitemarsh Township’s Board of Supervisors the board made the decision to advertise a change to its ordinance involving how fire services would be organized in the township. It plans to vote to adopt this change to the ordinance on December 1st. The new plan (download here) basically shuts out the Lincoln Fire Company, splits its coverage area between Spring Mill Fire Company and Barren Hill Fire Company, and takes the funding that Lincoln Fire Company receives from the township and uses it to create a special fund the remaining fire companies can seek funds from to use for equipment, etc.

During the meeting, the “Fitch Report” was referred to a number of times. This report was completed by an outside consultant, Fitch & Associates, in 2006. The study examined how emergency services were organized and handled in the township and made recommendations. You can download the Fitch Report here.

We have read the report and find two aspects of it interesting:

Feeling Disrespected

As we have reported, the Lincoln Fire Company wasn’t included in developing the new plan for fire services. This wasn’t by choice and its leadership wasn’t even aware of it until it was notified during a meeting with township officials who informed them that there was a new plan and the Lincoln Fire Company wasn’t part of it.

The members of Lincoln Fire Company feel slighted and unappreciated, which according to the Fitch Report, was just how they felt in 2006. From the report:


Please note that we think there is a typo in the above. We believe it should state that LFC members couldn’t serve as officers, not that they could.

How the membership of Lincoln Fire Company felt was taken into consideration in the recommendations made by the Fitch Report. The fifth recommendation from the Fitch Report recommends the approach needed to consolidate fire services:


So back in 2006, the Fitch Report found that the Lincoln Fire Company felt “disrespected” and that consolidating the fire company needed to be done through a very careful and respectful process. In 2016, Whitemarsh Township decided to create a new fire services plan and the process completely excluded any input from the Lincoln Fire Company. How does that happen?

Mutual Aid

The new plan relies heavily on mutual aid. For example, the areas in Whitemarsh with Flourtown and Ft. Washington addresses, are covered by fire companies based in Upper Dublin and Springfield Townships. See the page from the new plan below:


The Fitch Report points out what Whitemarsh relies on is not mutual aid, but “automatic aid” or “closest force response.” The report states:



So for example, the massive Riverwalk Fire in Conshohocken had fire companies respond from the entire area because additional assistance was needed. That is an example of mutual aid. Relying on a fire company outside the township to put out a small fire is a “closest force response” system, not mutual aid.

In the recommendation section of the Fitch Report, it actually recommends against relying on fire companies outside the township, which is just what Whitemarsh Township has chosen to do with the new plan. The report states:



Instead of relying on outside-the-township fire companies, to cover portions of the township, the Fitch Report recommends merging Spring Mill and Lincoln Fire Companies and relocating the merged company. It is also recommended that Barren Hill Fire Company be relocated to a more central location. These recommendations are not part of the new plan.

Conclusion has been told that creating the new plan was something that Whitemarsh Township tasked Barren Hill Fire Company and Spring Mill Fire Company to create. As you can see above in the paragraphs from the Fitch Report, these are the very organizations that the report states shouldn’t be involved. The report recommends civic leaders unaffiliated with the fire companies to make sure the interests of the entire Whitemarsh community are addressed, not the “interests of the individual fire companies.” The reason we highlighted the Fitch Reports recommendations against relying on “mutual aid” is because “mutual aid” is a central tenant of the new plan. Was that because conditions changed over the 10 years since the report was submitted or was it a case of those creating not wanting to take the steps necessary (move the fire companies) for Whitemarsh-based fire companies to cover all sections of the township?

The fact that the new plan was developed in secret is problematic. As we mentioned, the Lincoln Fire Company had no idea a new plan was being developed by the other two fire companies. The fact that no one from the other two fire companies talked is pretty incredible. This also means that the civic leaders the Fitch Report recommended being involved weren’t engaged and the entire community was kept in the dark.

We want to make sure that readers understand we are not trying to create concern of how fire fighting will be handled under the new plan. We are examining the process of how the new plan was developed the way it was and why neither the Lincoln Fire Company, nor the public, was aware or engaged by the township in the process. Further, why was the Fitch Report’s warning on the need to have a process that was inclusive and respectful ignored?

More to come.