It’s no secret that attracting and retaining volunteer firefighters is a growing problem not only in Newtown, but also in Bucks County, Pennsylvania and the United States in general.
Newtown Fire Chief Glenn Forsyth recently appeared before the Newtown Borough Council to report that Newtown has “a very active recruitment drive right now, and we're trying everything we can to recruit new members…[but]…the volunteer fire service is dwindling quickly” (read “Newtown Volunteer Fire Service 'Dwindling Quickly', Chief Says”).
The Chief also appeared before the Newtown Township Board of Supervisors (BOS) at the October 18, 2021, Newtown Township 2022 Budget Presentation meeting. He answered my question about how the $330,000 donation to the Newtown Fire Association (NFA) in the Township Manager’s recommended 2022 budget will be used.
To pay for this and other fire expenses - mostly for the cost of hiring a new Deputy Fire Chief - the Township Manager recommended a new 1.5 mil tax increase to be added to the Fire Protection Fund.
I wanted to get more details so I met with Warren Dallas, president of the NFA who went over the numbers with me. Here is the plan, which is an attempt to increase volunteer firefighter responses to fire calls and add some staffing reliability, especially for low turnout times.
- Pay for Call: Pay members for fire calls they respond to
- Duty Crew – Weeknights: Pay members for being available to respond to calls for a week at a time:
- Sunday to Thursday nights; 10 pm to 6 am
- Duty Crew – Weekend Nights: Pay members for being available to respond to calls on Friday and Saturday nights from 10 pm to 6 am
- Evening Crews – Weekdays: Pay members to be in station to respond to calls on evenings from 6 pm to 10 pm
- Weekend Day Crews: Pay members to be in station to respond to calls on Saturdays and Sundays from 6 am to 6 pm (12 hour shifts)*.
- Line Officer Stipend: Provide annual stipend to line officers
*NOTE: For the second year in a row, Newtown Township failed to get a FEMA SAFER Grant to cover the cost of hiring 5 new firefighters to cover weekends. The grant would have covered this expense for 3 years. Read “The Future of Newtown Township's Paid Fire Services”.
Current Plan vs Proposed Plan
* A resident noted that doubling the pay per call from $5 to $10 would increase the total amount from $12K to $24K, not $28,730. Warren Dallas explained how the latter number was calculated: In 2020 (and prior years), the Fire Association only paid members for responding to calls if they made 20% or more of the total calls. The $12,000 was actually rounded up. The 2022 plan was based on the total 2020 member responses of 2873 calls, whether the member made one call or more than 20% of the calls. Dropping the 20% minimum is being considered so the additional calls were factored into the cost.
Some numbers from page 14 of the recommended 2022 budget under FIRE PROTECTION:
- Management Salaries: $158,740 vs $108,000 (2021) – diff = $50,740: a 47% increase
- NFA Contribution: $330,000 vs $160,000 (2021) – diff = $170,000: a 106% increase
The $170,000 increase in NFA contribution will cover the added cost of the new retention plan versus the old plan ($128,730 - $27,600) PLUS the purchase of a new Fire Chief vehicle (approximately $65,000).
My preference would be to increase the NFA contribution by $128,730 to a total of $288,730 ($160,00 + $128,730). To pay for that, I would cut some expenses (such as hiring a new Deputy Fire Chief and buying a new Fire Chief vehicle) rather than implementing a new dedicated 1.5 mil tax to be levied every year.
We do not know if the new retention plan will work, but it is worth a shot. However, we shouldn’t at this time lock the township into a tax increase that potentially will not solve the problem.
For more information about NFA revenues and expenditures for the years 2019 through 2022, see the 2022 NFA General Fund Budget [LINK: https://bit.ly/NFA2022budget]
- “Newtown Township Moves Forward With Plans to Assess Newtown Borough a Monthly Fee for Use of Its Paid Newtown Emergency Services Department”
Posted on 01 Nov 2021, 11:38 - Category: First Responders