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Williamsport fire, ambulance companies to merge

September 25, 2006|By KAREN HANNA

WILLIAMSPORT

The heads of Williamsport's fire and ambulance services, which have been housed in the same building since January, soon will answer to one chief.

Members from the ambulance and fire companies voted by a margin of 3 to 1 toward the end of a lengthy meeting Monday night to consolidate their departments. The change will take effect Jan. 1, said Jay Grimes, president of the Williamsport Volunteer Fire Co.

According to Grimes, who will take over as president of the Williamsport Volunteer Fire & EMS in its inaugural year, the consolidation means more personnel will be available to respond to both fire and medical emergencies.

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"Our concern is this was done for the community, and it was done to serve the community better, both fire- and ambulance-wise," Grimes said after the vote.

Heralding the merger as the path of a "trend-setting organization," John Latimer IV, Washington County emergency services director, told a crowd of more than 60 firefighters and paramedics they will become the county's first combined department.

Firefighters voted 30-11 in favor of the move, while the ambulance company members voted 18 to 5, Latimer said.

In January, the ambulance company moved into the fire department's station, but the companies have maintained their separate command structures. According to a display presented by Grimes, the new department will be divided into ambulance and fire services, and the heads of each division will report to one chief.

After the meeting, ambulance Lt. Craig Dofflemyer cited short staffing as one concern addressed by the change.

"I think it's going to be great for the community. I think staffing's going to be up on all the pieces of apparatus that leave this station," Dofflemyer said.

With the new structure and the current housing plan, firefighters and paramedics will be able to more quickly settle their differences, Dofflemyer said. Since moving into one station, they have been working better together, he said.

They also will be able to train together for emergencies, so either group can handle calls.

"Volunteerism is down, and our career staff can only do so much," Dofflemyer said.

The transition still is being worked out, Grimes said, but he said he did not anticipate any problems pulling both departments together.

G. Glenn Fuscsick, president of the Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association, said the vote represents the way of the future.

"It's been history-making, and we're hoping that this will be the model for the county," he said.

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