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Finances force fire and rescue companies to move in together

January 24, 2006|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM

WILLIAMSPORT

erinc@herald-mail.com

Beginning Sunday, Williamsport's fire and rescue companies will be housed in the same building for the first time in about 40 years. The step is the first toward a future merger of the companies, officials said Monday.

Williamsport Volunteer Rescue Services and Williamsport Volunteer Fire Co. will remain separate companies, but both organizations will operate out of the fire station at 2 Brandy Drive in Williamsport.

Winfield Brown, president of the ambulance company, said his station's relocation will cut costs for the company and enable volunteers to run calls for both stations.

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"We're a station that's being run down," he said.

Volunteers who have the training may respond to calls for both stations. Utility bills and building maintenance costs will be reduced by consolidating into one building, said John Latimer, Director of Washington County Emergency Services.

He said the county encourages other stations to merge to prevent the county from paying utilities and other costs associated with maintaining separate stations.

"Both organizations should be commended for doing something as progressive as moving the two organizations together," he said.

Jay Grimes, president of Williamsport Volunteer Fire Co., said he believes this is the first time a Washington County ambulance company and fire company have moved into the same building.

"It makes sense financially," he said. "It will help both departments."

Washington County Commissioners contribute money each year to all fire companies in the county, Latimer said. For now, commissioners will continue to contribute the same amount to both companies, he said.

"The contribution will not change, but their costs will decrease," he said. "When you are in one building instead of two, you are able to split the costs. This will immediately lead to a positive impact for them."

Latimer and Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association President Glenn Fuscsick said they could not comment on the ambulance company's financial status.

The long-term goal, Brown said, is to consolidate the two companies into one.

Williamsport Volunteer Ambulance Services Chief Tom Anderson said when the companies merge, they will try to keep as much of their individual identities as they can.

Some of the longtime volunteers have struggled to accept the relocation and merger.

"There are some egos involved," Brown said. "But you can't have egos in this business. We're here to save lives."

The two companies were housed in Town Hall about 40 years ago, but Brown said they separated due to disputes.

Both are committed to making it work this time.

"Everyone needs to get over past problems and be here for the community," he said.

About 30 members of the companies met Monday night to discuss house rules and training regulations.

An emergency services liaison position was created to assist with the relocation. The liaison, Kevin Lewis, a member of both companies, will field questions and handle concerns that members have, Brown said.

The ambulance company purchased a parcel of land along U.S. 11 on which it hoped to build a new station. Anderson said plans to build that station have dissolved and the land is for sale. Brown said he knows of at least one person interested in buying it.

The money from the sale will go back to the ambulance company, Latimer said.

Emergency calls for Williamsport's ambulance company will be dispatched to the fire station effective at noon Sunday.

"We're definitely 100 percent behind it," Fuscsick said. "We commend them for their foresight and look forward to assisting in their future merger. It's good for the citizens and the county. It's about providing better fire and rescue services for the citizens of the area."

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