The end may be near for the Becks Run Volunteer Fire Department, as Baldwin Borough leaders are expected to vote on possibly dramatically slashing funding to that department at the next Baldwin Council meeting on April 17.
That council meeting will be held at the borough municipal auditorium along Churchview Avenue at 7:30 p.m., and Baldwin residents will have the chance to speak publicly to borough council members before they make any decision on Tuesday. Audience comments will be welcomed at the start of the meeting.
What the Baldwin Council is officially expected to decide on Tuesday is how much borough money will be allocated to each of Baldwin's four fire stations—Becks Run, Option Independent Fire Company, South Baldwin Volunteer Fire Company and Baldwin Independent Fire Company No. 1—as well as what service areas each of those stations will have.
Currently, the borough provides an equal four-way annual split of $164,000 ($41,000 each) to all four stations, but the council is considering changing that practice to one based on how many structures in the borough are actually closest to each station.
Becks Run Fire could see borough funds of less than $2,000 annually if, as recommended, around 90 percent of its service area is sent to Baldwin Independent—its neighbor in the northern part of the borough.
Rather than face dwindling borough support, Becks Run officials could decide to close their station or to merge with Baldwin Independent's.
Baldwin Council Vice President Michael Stelmasczyk said during a council agenda meeting on April 10 that the borough cannot force Becks Run to merge or close since volunteers run Baldwin's fire stations.
Borough solicitor Stanley B. Lederman confirmed that, saying that the Baldwin Council can only control how much money it gives out.
"The only thing you control is the purse strings," Lederman said. "You can give $0; you can give $1 million."
In February, Baldwin Borough Manager John Barrett explained why borough leaders began considering funding and service area changes for its fire stations.
"This past budget cycle, when there was a lot of discussion about (fire) departments wanting some more money," Barrett said, "it really got us thinking about, 'Is it really fair and equitable to take our contribution and cut it four ways when you have four departments of varying sizes responding to a much different number of calls (and that have) different responsibilities in their district?'"
Barrett said that borough officials took advantage of a free study offered by the Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development to come up with recommendations to change fire practices in Baldwin.
The result of that study was a recommendation that Baldwin should merge all of its fire stations—equipment, personnel, et al.—into one fire company, but Barrett said that borough officials are probably not going to go that far, instead perhaps ultimately settling on establishing just two companies—one for north Baldwin and the other for south Baldwin. But that is all still to be determined.
For now, a merger of north Baldwin's two stations into one company—or the elimination of the small Becks Run station—is more feasible.
One way or another, Barrett said on April 10, "There's no scenario where we retain the existing structure as is."
Councilman John Ferris said that he wants to see only two fire companies in Baldwin—one in the north and one in the south—and that both companies should answer all of the borough's fire calls.
Fellow Councilman Larry Brown said, "We have to do some consolidation."
Baldwin Mayor Alexander R. Bennett Jr. said, "It's not the idea to save money. It's the idea to give a better service."
Two representatives from Becks Run Fire came to the April 10 agenda meeting to speak for their department.
"I think this is getting rushed through," Becks Run Treasurer Tom Linnert said. "Also, as far as the merger goes, you're at a chance here to lose two fire stations, up to six pieces of equipment, plus half your volunteer force.
"This might work out good on paper, but when it comes down to putting life in danger, it doesn't always work out. You have floods; you have snowstorms. Like we had in previous years, everyone was stretched.
"Would you be able to handle this with half your volunteer fire departments? I don't think so."
Becks Run Chief Len Novak doubted that the fire study employed by borough officials was entirely accurate, saying that his department's service area is larger than it is being given credit for.
And Linnert argued that Becks Run deserves equal funding in case its firefighters ever have to respond to an incident outside of its area, which has happened before.
"If I go into a house and die on Willett Road or I die at one on Middle Street," Linnert said, "it's still me dying. I still need the better equipment. I still need the same funding."
A Patch reader poll on this subject resulted in a narrow majority opinion that Becks Run should either merge with another fire company or be eliminated.
What should happen to Baldwin's fire stations? Give us your opinion please in the comments section.
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