Lower Saucon Township Council was back to meeting in person on Wednesday, July 21, 2021. In fact, the meeting room was standing room only. That was undoubtedly attributable to the agenda item to discuss the designation of Lower Saucon Fire Rescue (LSFR) as the sole fire services provider in the township. The meeting turnout comprised not just township residents but also a large contingent of members of LSFR who stood throughout the discussion about the future of fire services.
First, a brief history of fire services in the township. There were originally four fire companies. Leithsville and Se-Wy-Co merged in 2012. Southeastern was then absorbed in 2016 and LSFR was formed. In recent years, an attempt has been made to consolidate Steel City Fire Company and LSFR into a single entity. The difficulties that have been encountered in finalizing that merger, mostly caused by Steel City, are what led to the matter under discussion at the July 21 meeting.
Ty Johnson, LSFR Fire Chief, reviewed the fire company’s annual report. He reported that LSFR has 67 members, making it the largest volunteer fire company in Northampton County. They are also the third busiest volunteer company in the county. The bulk of the report showed a well-run operation in good fiscal condition. The values outlined spoke to its responsibility to the community and its training statistics showed a commitment to keeping its firefighters safe.
The surprising information came in a comparison between Steel City and LSFR relative to both call volume and response times. This data comes from a state-maintained database.
2020 2021 (to date of report)
LSFR 716 (90%) 315 (93%)
Steel City 77 (10%) 24 (7%)
AVERAGE RESPONSE TIME
2020 2021(to date of report)
LSFR 1.22 mins .69 minutes
Steel City 17.14 mins 7.21 minutes
Chief Johnson explained that “average response time” represents the amount of time elapsed between the time that dispatch contacts the fire company to request their service until the first person from that fire company is on the road to the call.
Not surprisingly, there was considerable discussion around the fact that LSFR is already providing the bulk of fire services for the township and the huge discrepancy in average response times to calls. Council members also discussed what would be required to make the transition to LSFR as a sole provider. Attorney Treadwell responded that it would require the drafting of an ordinance which could be voted on at the August 18 Council meeting. There was consideration of what the logistics of that kind of transfer might be and whether or not Steel City would continue as a fire company. It was clear that there are many issues to be resolved if the Council approves the ordinance to turn all fire services over to LSFR.
The only input from Steel City came from Kevin Kalman, Vice President of Steel City Fire Company and the Fire Police Captain. He stated that he had been advised by the fire company’s counsel not to speak at the meeting but that he wanted to address the Council. He refuted some of the claims about Steel City’s responsiveness and objected to remarks that had been made about Steel City’s training and readiness. He went on to commit to facilitating an orderly transition of fire services from Steel City to LSFR if that is what the Council decides on. However, he also pointed out that he was only speaking as an individual, not representing the fire company.
When Mr. Carocci raised a question about the $50,000 donation to Steel City that Attorney Treadwell had previously flagged as questionable and for which the Council has received no response, Mr. Kalman pointed out that he was not with the fire company at that time and then reverted to the stance that he couldn’t comment on that.
Following some additional comments and input from township residents, all of it supportive of the proposed ordinance, the Council voted unanimously to direct Attorney Treadwell to draft the appropriate ordinance to designate LSFR as the sole provider of fire services to the township. It will be voted on at the August 18 council meeting.
In Other News . . .
All the other agenda items passed unanimously and were generally of a “housekeeping” nature. The Council agreed to purchase an 8.9 acre parcel of land on E. Raders Lane with $422,500 from the Open Space Fund to preserve the space.
There was one slightly jarring item. The Township was apparently informed of a potential data security incident on July 9 and moved to engage counsel with specific expertise in these types of breaches. That will bear watching.
Finally, the feral cat neutering program must be working well. Council authorized additional funding for the program because of its already-high utilization rate.
The August 18 meeting will again be in person at Town Hall. There are quite a few items on the agenda relative to the consolidation of fire services as well as the appointment of a replacement member to the Water Authority Board.
See you there.
Next Township Council Meeting – Wednesday, August 18, 2021 – 6:30 PM at Town Hall
Next General Election – Tuesday, November 2, 2021