An Open Letter To The Residents Of The PMVFC Coverage Area
An Open Letter To The Residents Of The PMVFC Coverage Area
The Port Matilda Volunteer Fire Company will be permanently closing its doors on...
If nothing is done - soon.
State training requirements have resulted in an ever-decreasing number of volunteers, while State and National (NFPA) requirements and guidelines require more and more money to maintain a status quo. Income from the municipalities is far below the funding necessary to maintain the Fire Company. In short, the Fire Company has been creeping towards bankruptcy for years.
We're almost there.
On June 22, a gentleman was at the Fire Hall to repossess engine 15-10. The Fire Company is currently 9 months behind on payments for the apparatus. As the result of an emergency Fire Company meeting and then an emergency meeting of the Port Matilda Firefighters Relief Association, a 30-day reprieve is currently counting down. The Relief Association has loaned the Fire Company the payment required for this month. The Relief Association will NOT be able to do this again.
The Port Matilda Volunteer Fire Company is a not-for-profit business formed as a Volunteer Fire Company whose express intent is to help protect people and property in its coverage area. The Fire Company receives its income from contracts with the municipalities it covers (currently a shade under 30k/year), plus whatever can be earned from fundraisers.
The Port Matilda Firefighter's Relief Association is a not-for-profit incorporation formed and ran per Pennsylvania State law. Its business is purchasing safety-related items, equipment and training using state-received monies. The Relief Association is not part of the Fire Company, they are two entirely separate business entities.
State law provides a way for a Relief Association to loan money to a Fire Company, which is what was done. The Relief Association will not be able to loan any more money in this manner.
The Port Matilda Volunteer Fire Company covers 63 square miles and includes Port Matilda Boro, Worth Township, Huston Township, the section of Taylor Township in Centre County and most of Halfmoon Township. The Fire Company has approached the municipalities it covers for the past three years with regards to implementing a fire tax and taking over financial matters - the same things that are being done in Philipsburg, State College and Milesburg, to name our three neighboring Fire Companies here in Centre County. To date, Huston Township enacted a .6 mil fire tax, and Halfmoon has had a .43 mil for the last 3 years, but both are still tying their financial obligation to a fire contract. Municipalities can go to 3 mils before needing to place a referendum on a ballot.
Philipsburg Fire receives $50,000 and has a Fire Council that oversees the purchase of fire apparatus.
State College Fire Company is funded and maintained by the COG and PSU. We feel that sentence needs no further explanation.
The Milesburg Fire Company could have been in our current situation. The municipalities covered by Milesburg Fire wisely saw the situation and acted on it. Milesburg Boro obtained a loan for the Milesburg Fire Co.'s current financial obligations and are in the process of enacting a fire tax.
Q: Why hasn't the Fire Company said anything publicly until now?
A: The Fire Company was sincerely hoping the local municipalities would do something. Anything. They haven't.
Q: OK, you need money. Why don't you do more fundraisers?
A: We would need to fundraise at least $90,000 a year. That's $7,500 a month. If we could make that much with the dozen or so active members we currently have, we could all quit our day jobs.
Q: Why can't we learn to live small? Like Pine Glen, for example? Their budget is small and they don't have a lot of fire trucks.
A: We most certainly would never disrespect a Brother or Sister or their Fire Company, but we must point out that Pine Glen is a small community that does NOT have US220 and US322 (nor I-99 in the near future) running through the middle of their coverage area… and their call volume per year is VERY low - a couple dozen calls would be a fair estimate. They are the size they are for the simple reason that they have no need to be bigger. We don't have that luxury.
Q: Why does the Fire Company need more money than the municipalities currently give them? Why doesn't the Fire Company spend less and live within current funding?
A: If that were possible, our three neighbors wouldn't be doing what they're doing now, nor would we be in our current bind. What does it cost to operate? Well, here's a quick list of the most notable expenses:
Insurance costs - you think your homeowner's is outrageous, try insuring the people and equipment who run in to hazards instead of away from them... add to that the sue-happy climate induced by our many "we'll get money for you" lawyers in ads on TV nowadays. Insuring an emergency service is a pricey proposition.
Personnel equipment maintenance and repairs - would you be appreciative if the people who came to save you couldn't because their equipment broke? No, you would sue them, so see the point above… Wry humor aside, laws and guidelines exist for proper maintenance, repair and replacement of equipment. They're not the Fire Company's rules, they're State and National mandates. For example, it costs roughly $2100 to outfit a firefighter in turnout gear that is only usable for 5 (that's only five) years. Then it is supposed to be disposed of, as it has reached the end of its safe usefulness. Some of our "protective" gear has been in use for almost 20 years. Hose should be regularly tested and replaced as necessary, air packs and powered/hydraulic equipment (which includes the "jaws of life" tool), ladders, tools - all require periodic maintenance and testing. In short, all the tools and equipment that can save YOU from harm require periodic testing and replacement. Even the tests themselves have to be paid for - we can't get them done for free.
Apparatus/Equipment purchase and replacement costs - the cost of used fire trucks (pumpers and/or tankers) starts at about $100,000 and goes up from there. Our newest engine was $120,000 - used, bought from Cherry Hill, NJ FD. New, prices can easily start at $500,000 (half a million dollars) and go up from there.
Apparatus repair costs - repair and replacement costs are reasonably predictable year-to-year, we have tracked it and use this information when setting out a budget for each year. Parts for firetrucks are not cheap. For example, a recently-purchased alternator for the engine listed at $2,000. For an alternator. The water pumps that are the heart and purpose of an engine are supposed to be tested and certified at least yearly for serviceability. As with personal equipment testing, even the tests themselves aren't free.
Day-to-Day expenses - things like electric, heating, fuel are (essentially) fixed expenses. Add things like snow removal in the winter, general building upkeep and maintenance - everything adds up. Incidentally, the Fire Company is charged by Port Matilda for water. Yes, there is a water meter at the Fire Hall. Yes, the Boro charges the Fire Company for water, for pity's sake.
The Fire Company's budget is well over $100,000 a year, just to be a Fire Company. Funding from the municipalities is less than $30,000 a year. -If your personal yearly minimum-survival expenses were $40,000 and your yearly income were $10,000, how long would it be before you were out of existence?
The municipalities we cover have been "throwing a bone" to the Fire Company for years - money received from them hasn't been anywhere near that necessary to survive - let alone thrive - so the Fire Company has been slowly spiraling to bankruptcy for years. The Fire Company has dwindled out its resources to the point that not only is there nothing left to hock, we're in danger of losing what we have.
Q: Why not get rid of some of the firetrucks? It would save a lot of money.
A: In a situation where seconds literally can mean the difference between life or death the victim (God forbid, it could be any one of us - even YOU) would have to wait a minimum additional 15 minutes for:
a pumper. That would mean an additional 15 minutes before the Fire Company could even start fighting the fire. We could all roast marshmallows while we waited, maybe?
a tanker. Structure fires double in size every two minutes. Master streams can use 3,000 gallons of water (the average pumper and a tanker combined capacities) in minutes. Hydrants are precious few in our coverage area. We HAVE to be able to pump AND shuttle water to scenes.
a rescue. Patient treatment and ANY necessary extrication is started immediately on arrival. Can you imagine what it would be like if you were the one trapped in a mangled car while you wait that additional 15 minutes? Can you imagine what it would be like to be the volunteer who had to stand there and do nothing for lack of equipment?
As a side note, the rescue (15-18) has two annual payments left on it for a total of $32,000. The rescue is a joint purchase by the Fire Company and the Port Matilda Firefighter's Relief Association. Given that we already have US220 and US322 running right through the middle of our coverage area, it currently carries barely enough equipment to serve its purpose. Add to this I-99's eventual completion along with the additional equipment that will be required to cover incidents on that interstate and the truck will probably be too small to do the job necessary. It never ends...
Q: Well, then. If we wait the additional time, we might as well have some OTHER Fire Company cover our area. What would it cost for neighboring Fire Companies to cover our areas?
A: That depends on which municipality you're talking about. Bearing in mind that the combined total received from ALL municipalities is less than 30k, here are some things we've heard around the Fire Hall (and the County). Also, please bear in mind that most of the sources are not confirmed, this is "grapevine" information:
Halfmoon Township - State College Fire Company has varied from stating they will NOT cover Halfmoon to speculating an estimate as low as $50,000 per year. A member of the Warriors Mark Fire Department was heard to say they would probably charge $70,000 up front and an additional $70,000 per year, plus Halfmoon would have to provide an engine and volunteers in Halfmoon to man it, all with no guarantee or liability on their part for response.
Neither Fire Company could charge less than they currently have established with their primary coverage areas, they would have to apply the same billing structure they're currently using.
Worth Township - We have heard of no estimates for coverage from Bald Eagle Fire, State College Fire or Milesburg Fire. A Philipsburg Fire Company official stated to our Chief that they would NOT primary Worth Township as long as Port Matilda Fire existed. A figure of $50,000/year otherwise was stated by our Chief (his source was asked as a "hypothetical situation").
Taylor Township - Bald Eagle Fire would be their closest Fire Company. We have heard of no estimates for coverage, but given their recent difficulties with funding and the Tyrone/Snyder Township events, we would wonder if they could even afford the additional area without a substantial income for the effort. Sandy Ridge or one of the Tyrone Companies would be next in line, but would present an extremely delayed response time due to distance.
Port Matilda Boro - no estimates have been heard for any Fire Company's coverage costs. Distance and response time would be an extreme issue from all sides.
Huston Township - Milesburg Fire would be the obvious choice, but we have heard of no estimates.
In addition to yearly contracts, most, if not all Companies would require the same setup as outlined for Halfmoon/Warriors Mark Fire Co. - fire truck, housing for it and manpower to run on the apparatus. Every estimate we've heard bantered about is at least $20,000 more for an individual municipality than we currently receive from ALL municipalities combined.
We don't believe we're asking for too much. Estimates from our neighbors confirm this. The Fire Company is dying an ever-faster death due to lack of funding. If it is left to die, each and every resident needs to consider the following:
Property values will markedly decrease. Resale values will plummet. Property tax revenue will fall causing either a rise in taxes or a decrease of local government services (road maintenance, snow removal, any service provided).
Insurance costs will skyrocket. Homeowners insurance, fire insurance… of course, this assumes the insurance companies in question don't simply drop anyone in our area completely, leaving only high-risk insurance to be paid for. Insurance rates are determined using the municipality's ISO rating (0 is perfect, 10 is the worst), how far the property is from the nearest fire station (more than 5 miles from a fire station adversely affects the rating), how far it is from the nearest continuous water source and what equipment would respond to a given emergency. Port Matilda Boro and Halfmoon Township's ISO ratings are 6. All other areas are a 9. Those sixes would fall, thereby increasing the cost of insurance. The other areas only have one place to go - 10 - otherwise known as "high risk" insurance… if they're insurable at all.
Outcomes for emergencies will be worse. It's hard enough to fight what we do given the total mileage covered now. Can you afford the additional time required to bring someone in out of the area?
We ask for the funding to volunteer to help YOU.
The current emergency is keeping the engine. If the engine is lost, it will adversely affect ISO ratings. Soon to follow will be the building loan. Day-to-day bills are just another nail in the coffin. Given the small amount of money received from the municipalities and the amount of time this has been going on, it's a pretty deep hole to dig out of. It's time for the municipalities to stop insulting the Fire Company with 1970's funding and realize their refusal to recognize the problem created this hole we're in. They need to find some good answers fast before it's too late.
Please Note: PortMatilda.com is not owned or operated by the Port Matilda Borough. PortMatilda.com is a donation of time and money by a volunteer firefighter for our community's volunteers. The Fire Company, Ambulance Service or the Borough do not pay even a penny for it. Also, the Port Matilda Fire Company is not affiliated with the Port Matilda Emergency Medical Services, they are two separately incorporated not-for-profit businesses.
They do share one common need, though. Volunteers are always encouraged to contact either organization. Make a difference - volunteer!