We had the opportunity to speak with board of the Lincoln Fire Company on Thursday evening. NBC10 broke the story earlier in the week that Whitemarsh Township had decided to no longer fund the firehouse, which would effectively close it on December 1st.
According to the board members, officials from Whitemarsh Township recently asked the fire company’s leadership to a meeting where they informed them of the decision. The members of the fire company were surprised because there had been no recent discussion about merging with another fire company or closing. Historically this has come up a few times and Lincoln was close to merging with Spring Mill Fire Company at one time, but the deal fell through. So basically members of the Lincoln Fire Company have always known this day was coming, but are upset that the membership wasn’t given a role in deciding its fate.
A couple things:
- Lincoln Fire Company’s prior chief, Jason Davis, was arrested in September. He is accused of buying items using funds from the Whitemarsh Township Volunteer Firefighter’s Relief Association and then selling the items and keeping the money. Davis is no longer with the fire company and a new chief, Tim Fleming, is now in place.
- There was also a recent issue with the one paid staff member of the fire company who has a prior conviction and thus is ineligible to provide emergency medical services. The Lincoln Fire Company has a quick response vehicle and situations were occurring when its paid staff member (with the conviction) was the first to arrive to a scene, meaning before the ambulance. He would render initial aid and based on circumstances would continue assisting once the ambulance arrived. He is no longer allowed to do this.
Did the issues outlined above result in a lack of faith in fire company? Whitemarsh Township has said very little about the its decision thus far. It has released a letter, where it invites the public to learn more about fire safety in the township going forward. This meeting is on Monday, November 21st at 7:00 p.m. at the township building.
Is money an issue?
In 2016, Whitemarsh Township allocated $809,405 towards Fire Fighting and Emergency Services. This number includes the fire marshal and an allocation towards ambulance service. According to the Lincoln Fire Company it receives about $66,000 out of the overall budget, plus the township pays the salary and provides the benefits for its one employee. Lincoln Fire Company operates on a budget of about $100,000 annually. The balance of its budget is made up through fundraising, such as its annual Christmas tree sale which brought in about $15,000 annually. The fire company owns its property, building and equipment.
The Times Herald recently reported that Whitemarsh Township is projecting a $340,000 deficit for its 2017 budget. According to the article the township expects to make-up the difference from the tax revenue being generated by the new developments such as Whitemarsh Station, The Oaks at Lafayette Hill and Reserve at Creekside. But how do all these new homes impact services, such as providing fire fighters? The question was asked at a recent public meeting the Times Herald covered (same article linked above):
“With all of these new houses, has the expenditure side of them been considered?” asked Siddall Zoe.
Mellor (the township manager Rick Mellor) explained that while some of the new developments have services provided by their homeowner’s associations, public safety is the responsibility of the township and is closely monitored on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.
The Oaks at Lafayette Hill, which is under construction off Cedar Grove Road, falls within Lincoln Fire Company’s coverage area, as does the new senior living community across from Panera on Ridge Pike. This Oaks has 159 townhomes. There are over 200 homes at the Reserve at Creekside, 23 homes at Whitemarsh Station, the phase two multi-family building that is not yet constructed at The Hill at Whitemarsh and then single or smaller developments. So there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 400+ homes recently built, under construction or approved to be built in the township. With all the new construction is now a good time to scale back the number of fire houses in the township?
With the projected deficit in the township’s budget, and the decision to no longer fund the Lincoln Fire Company, it will be interesting to see if the township decision regarding the Lincoln Fire Company was driven due to a lack of faith in the fire company, budgetary concerns, or has technology simply caught up and a third fire house is no longer needed. The apparent rush to do it without the fire company’s involvement raises eyebrows about what is driving the change.
The members of the Lincoln Fire Company will be out tomorrow in the fire company’s coverage area knocking on doors in hopes of gaining the support from the public. It doesn’t want to close.
A lot of the questions about this should be answered on Monday night during the public meeting.
We will have an update on Tuesday morning.