NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP >> After months of preparation, the long-anticipated 2018 study of the township’s fire and emergency services was presented to the board of supervisors at the Jan. 23 meeting.
The main recommendation: the all-volunteer Newtown Fire Association (NFA) and the township’s nine-member paid firefighting and emergency services staff should be combined under one roof to ensure better response times, as well as a better overall command structure.
The 62-page report also recommends that a more centrally-located fire station be built to house both squads.
Fire protection consultant Harry R. Carter, PhD of Aldelphia, N.J. discussed what needs to be done and the equipment which must be purchased to ensure that fire services are adequate over the next decade for the Newtown area.
In addition to the fire station on Washington Avenue in Newtown Borough, the volunteer organization operates a second station along with the paid staff at the township’s municipal complex on Route 413 to more easily cover the Newtown Township.
According to the report, the new combined fire station should be near Sycamore Street so that both the borough and township would have adequate service.
Carter also recommended that in order to ensure better efficiency the command structure needs to be improved and put be under the control of a paid career fire chief.
Currently, Newtown Township employs eight paid full-time firefighters and a chief who are on duty from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.
The Newtown Fire Association provides fire-protection services when the township’s paid union staff are off duty, including overnights and weekends.
According to Carter, the township’s paid staff should be assigned Monday through Sunday, not just weekdays.
“Weekend availability is a problem for the volunteers,” Carter noted.
He also pointed out that many individuals have expressed concerns that there are communications issues within the operation of the NFA itself, and well as between the volunteers and township-paid staff.
The report noted that interviews with both departments also found that many fire association members felt that there were operational deficiencies and that an explicit rank structure should be developed.
Carter found that many of the volunteers are unaware that chief Glen Forsyth, a former Newtown Township police lieutenant that the supervisors appointed in 2012 to head the paid staff, is actually in charge of both departments.
“I recommend that the staffs come together and have battalion chiefs, lieutenants and firefighters under one roof,” Carter stated, contending that would alleviate the problem.
He also recommended that moving the NFA’s headquarters out of Newtown Borough would increase overall response times for both squads, which he said averages between nine and ten-and-a-half minutes once an emergency call comes in.
“However, you can remain where you are, if you choose,” Carter said of both fire stations.
As far as new equipment, he said that a 75-foot ladder should be purchased, as well as a Quick Response Vehicle (QRV) which would hold a two-member crew and provide mostly a first-aid function in emergencies.
One of the current township fire trucks has more than 133,000 miles on it and purchasing a new fire vehicle is in the township’s future capital plans.
“Like all consulting reports, this information can be used and this information can be disregarded, it’s up to you,” Carter told the supervisors during his 25-minute presentation.
He said that all sides need to get together and come up with a detailed fire staffing plan and structure.
Carter is a retired battalion commander with the Newark (N.J.) Fire Department and has been member of the all-volunteer Adelphia Fire Company in Howell Township since 1981.
Former township manager Kurt Ferguson had pushed for the fire study, claiming that such a report is needed before the township can purchase any new fire trucks, which can each cost several hundred thousand dollars.
The comprehensive study was budgeted at $30,000 when put out for bid in November 2017, and was to include the Newtown Fire Association, as well as the township’s Emergency Service Department (ESD).
The paid emergency squad was formed several years ago when most of the members of the NFA members were at their regular jobs, and coverage was needed in the township.
In the past, there have been tensions between the paid and volunteer forces.
For the 2019 budget year which began Jan. 1, $1,043,537 is earmarked for the township’s emergency services, with $75,000 set aside in the capital budget for buying a new fire truck.
This year’s budget also includes another $175,100 to fund the Newtown Fire Association.
The entire report and its recommendations can be viewed on the township website’s main page at: www.newtownpa.gov.
In other action, the board approved spending $92,690 to buy three new police cars from Fred Beans, Inc. The vehicles were part of this year’s township budget.
In addition, the supervisors approved another $36,730 to purchase lighting and emergency equipment for each of those cars.
As part of the police department upgrade this year, the supervisors also voted to advertise bids for buying two new motorcycles, along with the emergency lighting and equipment for each of them.
The board also approved authorizing spending a maximum of $40,000 in matching funds in order to apply for a grant from the state Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) to help the township develop a comprehensive multi-year plan to manage its finances.
If the grant is approved, a consultant would be hired to make fiscal recommendations.
The township’s finance committee had suggested that the supervisors apply for the state grant.
The DCED’s Early Intervention Program (EID) provides a 50-percent matching grant up to $200,000 to help local governments which are experiencing fiscal difficulties to establish short-and-long-term budget objectives.
The supervisors also discussed applying for a grant from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) to help pay for part of the township’s Comprehensive Trail Plan.
Specifically, the 2019 funding, if approved by the state, would go towards the planned trail from Frost Lane to Upper Silver Lake Road.
Township manager Micah Lewis told the board that last year DCNR denied the township funding for the Lower Dolington Road trail.
In land development news, the board unanimously voted to grant FairyGene, Inc. a conditional use waiver to mix cosmetics under contract for the cosmetic industry.
FairyGene would has a lease to operate the non-toxic mixing facility at 121 Friends Lane in the Newtown Business Commons, which is zoned LI (Light Industrial).
As part of the waiver, the company cannot operate a retail business, or test any products. Testing on animals is also prohibited.
In addition, the agreement stipulates that FairyGene cannot have more than 15 employees and can only operate from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday.
According to the company, it will mix, fill packages and label the cosmetics for shipment to its contractors.