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Fire department issues heat up meeting in Chambersburg

October 11, 2005|by BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

bonnieb@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The fire department's strategic plan ignited at times a heated discussion at Monday evening's Chambersburg Borough Council meeting.

Chambersburg Fire Chief John Vanlandingham presented a strategic plan for the council's approval. Borough Manager Eric Oyer said that he approves of the plan because "it is academically and technically sound and is fiscally responsible. It would maintain an efficient and effective combination career and volunteer fire department," and would add three firefighter/EMTs in 2006 and three more in 2007.

An entry-level firefighter makes about $61,000 a year, and the average firefighter makes about $72,000, officials said.

The plan would also redefine the eligibility standards for volunteer firefighters, Vanlandingham said.

Councilwoman Elaine Swartz said she was concerned that the plan's goals were not specific enough. "If you can't increase volunteer ranks, how will that affect your plan?" she asked Vanlandingham.

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He replied that there are active volunteers in the system, and that the department is investing in the volunteers they have by providing training.

Volunteers must get two hours of training per month in their first year of membership or they will be expelled, he added.

Councilwoman Sharon Bigler said she has never seen that happen.

Chambersburg has five volunteer fire companies.

"They are like five dysfunctional brothers," Swartz said. She sees no effort to bring the companies together, she added, and that there are "no proactive documents, just wishful thinking. There is no training in place, and no plans for cooperation between the stations."

Bigler also cited the department for its lack of training.

"There's no training. There are 23 volunteers at McKinley Street, and not many can fight fires." Bigler added that when she joined the fire department several years ago, every Wednesday night was drill night, and once a month there were EMT certification classes. "That stopped a few years ago," she said.

Charles Goetz Jr., vice president of Franklin Fire Co., said the council is being asked to endorse a strategy plan that hasn't had "rebuttal" from his company.

"This is a renegotiation of a contract that the borough has with the Franklins," and they have not yet had a chance to meet, Goetz said.

Friendship Engine and Hose Co. #1 treasurer John McCrae, a volunteer firefighter since he was 14, said that volunteer firefighters have lives to lead and other civic duties to attend to.

In other business, the council authorized borough solicitor Thomas Finucane to draft a noise ordinance. Finucane said he had looked at noise ordinances from several municipalities, and those that best withstand legal challenges have both qualitative and quantitative standards and allow for some exceptions. Meters for police officers to carry to measure decibel levels cost about $200 each, Finucane added.

Borough resident Wade Burkholder encouraged the council to make the fines for violations stringent enough. "If it's $15, they might laugh," he said. "If it's $100, they might not want to do that again."

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