It takes about 20 firefighters to successfully manage a typical structure fire.
The reality is, however, the city’s paid fire department and the volunteer departments in the county lack sufficient manpower, which is calculated by the state Department of Community and Economic Development Governor’s Center for Local Government Services.
That agency has undertaken a more than two-year study with fire departments from the city, DuBoistown, South Williamsport, Old Lycoming Township and Montoursville – known as the Greater Lycoming Emergency Services Alliances Committee – to find ways of better providing services to their communities.
Recommendations from the study, which was paid for by the Lycoming County commissioners with state grant money, were presented Tuesday night to local municipal leaders and fire service representatives.
Results indicated that the group should continue to explore ways of collaborating to realize cost savings and efficient use of manpower.
Jerry Ozog, DCED peer consultant, said some of the options include increasing the use of career firefighters in volunteer stations to improve response time, using paid incentives for volunteer firefighters and establishing on-call duty crews that respond from their homes.
An eventual goal would be to develop a fire commission that manages a regional or countywide fire and emergency medical service department, Ozog said.
Protecting the public and sending firefighters into burning buildings with small crews such as the Williamsport Bureau of Fire does is “incredibly dangerous,” said Deputy Fire Chief Dave Dymeck.
That’s why the city depends on mutual aid from neighboring volunteer departments, he said.
“A lot of times, we’re sending one guy into a building. If he goes down, we won’t know until help arrives,” Dymeck said.
The city’s paid, full-time firefighters may be able to help fledgling volunteer departments with low volunteer turnout, he added.
“We can all start working together to provide a better service. We need to make sure we get out the door every time,” Dymeck said.
Rob Brady, a DCED consultant, said with today’s economic and personnel constraints, both paid and volunteer fire departments can’t afford the price tag of a new $1 million fire truck.
Between the member departments in the Alliance Committee, there are more than 45 pieces of apparatus, Brady said.
“That’s a lot of rolling stock,” he said. “That’s a lot of money sitting out there.”
Brady said the word “merger” intentionally was omitted in the study.
“We didn’t use that because we don’t know if that’s going to be part of this,” he said.
Other recent collaborations have been cited as examples of successful partnerships that have been formed in the county, including the Muncy area and Jersey Shore-Salladasburg area.
J.J. Magyar, a Montgomery Borough councilman and former Montgomery Volunteer Fire Co. officer, said department politics and territory needs to be set aside.
“Helping the people – that’s what it’s all about,” he said.
Those involved at Tuesday’s meeting agreed that elected municipal officials must take the next step to help the organization of fire departments structure itself.
“The way I look at it is, this is going to happen. It’s the forces of economies coming together,” said state Rep. Rick Mirabito, D-Williamsport.