NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP >> Newtown Township Fire Chief Glenn Forsyth will officially take over as chief of the all volunteer Newtown Fire Association effective Jan. 1, 2021 under a bylaws change approved by the board of supervisors on October 29.
“This is a huge step for the Newtown Emergency Services and the Newtown Fire Association,” said Forsyth, the chief of the paid Newtown Emergency Services department. “It’s the first step in bringing our two departments together as one.”
It’s also in keeping with a fire study commissioned by the township in 2018, which recommended moving to a single fire chief who would oversee both the paid full time staff at the Newtown Emergency Services department (Station 55) and the volunteers with the Newtown Fire Association (Station 55).
The study recommended that in order to ensure better efficiency the command structure of the NFA be revised with a bylaws change and be placed under the control of the township’s paid career fire chief.
Newtown Township employs eight paid full-time firefighters and a chief who are on duty from 6 a.m. to 6 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.
Up until now the two organizations have operated with separate chiefs, although Forsyth had been given oversight over both the NES and the NFA when he was hired in 2012.
The resignation of NFA Chief Matt Gerhard at the NFA’s October meeting opened the door to the change in bylaws, which is pending the approval of the NFA membership at its November meeting.
“Matt is taking a leave of absence only as the Chief. We’re not letting him out the door,” said Forsyth.
If the change is approved by the NFA membership, a new organizational chart will be put into place in which Forsyth will now officially oversee both organizations. A deputy chief will be added to the association’s chain of command and two battalion chiefs would be added, one at Station 55 and one at Station 45. Both would report to Forsyth.
The changes are scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2021.
When Forsyth was hired in 2012 to the newly-created position of township fire chief it was with the idea that he’d also oversee the all-volunteer Newtown Fire Association.
In a related motion, the supervisors voted 4 to 1 with John Mack voting against, to approve a fire service agreement between the township and the Newtown Fire Association.
Under the five year agreement effective Jan. 1, 2021 and approved by the NFA, the NFA will provide volunteers for first line fire suppression services in the evening and on the weekend when the NES is not in service, while the NES is allowed the shared use of NFA property, including its fire apparatus and the use of Station 55.
In the first year of the agreement, the township will pay the NFA $160,000 in support of its volunteer operations. For the remaining four years it will be up to the two to negotiate the annual support.
“There has been concern among both parts over whether the Fire Association is going to leave or the township is going to leave their support. This gives the Fire Association and us a lot more security knowing we have a five year deal,” said Forsyth.
What the agreement does not include is neighboring Newtown Borough, which will be asked by the NFA to negotiate a separate service agreement.
“We’re holding up our end of it. I don’t see any rock solid agreement from the borough holding up their end,” said Chairman Phil Calabro.
“I agree,” said Forsyth. “But this is something that we started in 2012 and initially the borough wasn’t part of it. I think the NHA is going to pursue an agreement with the borough. I’m confident there will be an agreement. I think it will be the same thing that happened here. I don’t know what the dollar amount will be. That’s what we have to work on.”
While the borough doesn’t have an agreement in place, it has been paying $32,000 to the NFA annually to cover workman’s compensation. It will also contribute an additional $23,000 towards operating expenses in 2021.
“I’d like to see some level of confidence that they are willing to work in good faith,” said Supervisor David Oxley. “We’re putting up a certain amount of assets and funds here on our end and we don’t have any certainty on their end of what they are willing to do.”
When several supervisors questioned the dollar amount included in the agreement for 2021, Forsyth said if the board was inclined to increase the contribution “we’re certainly fine with that.
“But I think it’s really important that you understand that my department cannot function without an agreement with the Fire Association,” he said.
“We do not own a piece of fire apparatus. We use fire apparatus owned by the Fire Association every day we are on duty,” said Forsyth. “And we do not have a fire house. Our headquarters is owned by the Fire Association. So I think it’s imperative to have a good, solid fire service agreement with the fire association because without them the emergency services would cease to function.”