Pennsylvania Fire Company Refuses To Give Up Fire Engine

The Port Matilda Fire Company will not get rid of its fire engine as demanded in an ultimatum delivered earlier this month by the municipalities it serves, said Tonia Rudy, president of the fire company.

"If that truck goes, essentially we do not have a fire company," she said.

The four municipalities that partially fund the fire company had threatened to stop paying the department if it did not relinquish ownership of its red 1510 engine by Dec. 31.

However, at least two of the four townships that issued the ultimatum don't appear ready to follow through on the threat. Kim Klinger, president of the Port Matilda Borough Council, said the council will have to vote before it stops funds from going to the company.

"We will absolutely listen to what (the fire company) has to say," she said.

Two of the three Taylor Township supervisors said they did not know about the letter containing the ultimatum until it was delivered to the fire company. They said they had not voted on it. Officials from Worth and Huston townships could not be reached for comment Monday.

The fire company has struggled financially. It made a public appeal during the summer for the municipalities it serves to increase funding or risk seeing the company go bankrupt.

Richard Beckwith, chairman of the Taylor Township Board of Supervisors, last week called the engine "a thorn in our side."

Rudy said the fire company now has a legal adviser who is reviewing the loan agreement on the truck and is working to negotiate a lower interest rate.

If the fire company is forced to sell the truck, residents of the municipalities could face an increase in homeowners insurance, said Bobby DeArment, of Insurance Office Inc. in Howard. It is unclear exactly how much more residents might pay because insurance companies use different criteria for insurance premiums, he said.

"It's complicated," DeArment said. "It is not just a cookie-cutter deal."

If the Port Matilda Fire Company goes bankrupt or can't stay in business, residents and commercial property owners would likely see a jump in premiums that would be "greater than most people want," DeArment said.

"We absolutely must have a fire company in this region," said Jim Andrews, a Halfmoon Township supervisor and a member of the task force examining fire protection in the Upper Bald Eagle Region. The task force comprises elected representatives from each of the five municipalities in the region, three at-large members and two fire company representatives.

Andrews said he thinks taxpayers will save money if the Port Matilda Fire Company closes and a new fire company is created by the participating municipalities, giving municipal officials control of its finances.

He envisions the municipalities using low-interest loans and grants to finance a new company.

Members of the fire company disagree.

"That's just icing the cake to make it look good," said Fire Chief Dean Rudy Jr., noting that even the Centre County commissioners are having a hard time finding grant money to pay for the regional fire-training site.

Recently, Halfmoon Township voted to stop providing funding for the fire company, citing inadequate financial records and "tremendous" debt. Halfmoon officials struck a deal with the COG, under which the Alpha Fire Company will provide fire coverage to the eastern part of the township if Port Matilda stops responding to calls there in a timely manner with a pump truck.

The agreement is a short-term fix, said Jim Steff, COG executive director. If it is activated, Halfmoon Township will pay about $1,500 a month, or $18,000 a year, for fire protection, Steff said, which is $4,000 more than the township was paying Port Matilda.

Port Matilda had collected $38,000 from five municipalities, with Halfmoon giving $14,000 of that amount. The company's annual budget is about $125,000, fire company officials have said.

For now, the fire company will continue to serve Halfmoon Township.

"We are not going to jeopardize the citizens of Halfmoon Township," Rudy said.