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Whitehall Will Charge Other Communities—Mostly Brentwood—to Use its Firefighters

The Whitehall Borough Council approved the measure, 6-0, on Wednesday night.

Acting in what Whitehall Borough Public Safety Committee Chair Robert McKown said is in the best interest of its taxpayers, the Whitehall Council approved a policy on Wednesday night that calls for other municipalities to pay for Whitehall Fire Company service should they need it—but not in all cases.

Up until the policy was passed on Wednesday by a 6-0 vote—Councilman Harold Berkoben was absent—Whitehall's volunteer fire company would always respond to emergencies in neighboring municipalities free of charge when those municipalities' fire companies either needed help or were not able to respond themselves at all.

But now, in cases when two specific things both occur—(1) Whitehall Fire is the primary responder for another municipality and (2) the emergency happens during regular weekday hours (between 7 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.)—Whitehall would charge the other municipality for its service.

In accordance with a statewide mutual aid agreement, Whitehall will continue to not charge for emergency service (no matter what time of day) when it is a secondary responder to an incident. For example, should Whitehall's firefighters go to an incident in Brentwood Borough on a Monday at noon to assist's Brentwood's already-present firefighters, there would be no charge.

Whitehall will also continue to not charge for emergency service when that service is called for on weekends or during evening hours—even when Whitehall is the primary responder—since that service does not disrupt normal weekday work within Whitehall.

Why? It's because multiple Whitehall firefighters also work for the borough's Public Works department, and emergencies during evenings and on weekends do not interfere with the firefighters' normal weekday Public Works schedule.

Weekday emergencies between 7 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., however, do interfere with those Public Works hours, and Whitehall would charge neighboring municipalities $150 mobilization fees in those instances, as well as $40 per hour fees for each responding firefighter who is also an on-duty borough employee.

"For a year now, we did some analysis on the number of (Whitehall) fire calls," McKown said. "There happened to be 31 in Brentwood. Nineteen of those 31 happened to be during working hours.

"So, (Whitehall firefighters) are leaving their duties here in the borough as road crew and going to respond to these fires.

"If they're off their duties here at Public Works, then we need to be reimbursed for those costs because those gentlemen are being paid (during work hours) whether they're doing Public Works or fire calls."

No one is paid to be a firefighter-only in Whitehall, McKown confirmed in an interview after Wednesday's council meeting, but multiple Whitehall firefighters do hold paid jobs on the borough's Public Works staff.

"Essentially, that's our paid (fire) force," McKown said.

Fellow Whitehall Councilman Philip Lahr, a longtime fireman, was empathetic to other neighboring volunteer fire companies' recruiting challenges, particularly in Brentwood, but still supported Whitehall's new policy.

"I really believe that we have to move forward," Lahr said, "because we've been on many calls where we were the only ones there.

"They (Brentwood Volunteer Fire Company) have difficulty at times, and it's sad that they have that. They were the 'mother' company for Whitehall when Whitehall first started (fire service) in 1946, so it's difficult to pull that out. But they have to be able to figure out a way to solve that."

Whitehall Councilwoman Kathleen N. DePuy pointed out that, should the current trend of fire calls remain the same over the next year, Brentwood would only be on the hook for around $5,000 in Whitehall reimbursement.

"Does that solve anything?" DePuy asked before eventually agreeing to the new policy. "Is that going to force Brentwood into doing anything? That's a cheap outlet for them. Are we going to be creating a problem in the long run?"

McKown responded.

"At this point, we don't know," he said. "This is new ground. This is a new venture. Until we see how this works, and if it gets to a point where they don't bother calling their fire department out at all and relying on us, then maybe we do need to revisit the fees and start charging (more).

"We didn't want to be detrimental. We wanted to make sure we covered our cost and, at least, make them aware that this is an issue that has to be addressed.

"This might be the very first beginning of either a paid fire department or the consolidation of fire departments."

Click here for more Whitehall Borough news.

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Rigatoni October 19, 2012 at 06:13 PM
Frenchie- Did I hit a nerve? Can you not take constructive criticism of your beloved Borough and its employees? Especially from an outsider that has seen it done a completely different way? I have met several of PW, police and firemen. They are all good people and take pride in their jobs. I am just questioning the effiency of their jobs not the workers themselves. FF19 stated that the dispatchers do the policemen's paperwork so they can be out on patrol.... you state the police are doing the paperwork in Caste's parking lot and the firehalls. Which is it? Why do we need dispatchers when the county provides that service for us! No doubt the PW does a great job in the winter but what do they do in the summer? What keeps 8 guys plus summer help busy 40 hrs a week? I believe there are only 6 parks in the borough. As for the fire dept. the article never stated they would get any money from the billing. The borough was going to benefit from the billing. From what I understand those guys get nothing but a t-shirt. They don't even get compensated for the fuel they use in their personal vehicles. Those guys (and girls if there are any) should be commended for their service to the borough, it's residents and the neighboring communities. I did that job for a living and got injured in the process.... I would not do it for free!
Michael October 19, 2012 at 06:56 PM
Margaret, This was a somewhat intelligent conversation until you became involved. Once again, Whitehall is responding as a team with Brentwood not as their primary service. Phil Lar made ridiculous accusations. Your council started a s#@t storm and the residents of many boroughs may suffer because people like you who work in one aspect of emergency services and believe that qualifies you to speak for all entities of emergency services. Volunteer firefighters don't get paid. If the alarm goes off and you're sick, in the shower, bathroom, in line at the store etc you don't have to respond. We're not sitting in recliners at a base waiting for a call. We're living our lives until the call comes in. We can't count on having a full crew every time the alarm goes off. That is why we set up mutual aid agreements. How dare you claim Brentwood is out partying and too busy to respond to their own calls. You were paid to sit on your ass until you were needed. Why don't you educate yourself on the fire service before you speak. Also the only member from public works who is permitted to respond is the Chief so Im sure your borough will survive.
bd October 19, 2012 at 07:25 PM
Michael - I agree with you. Whitehall Council really booted this one. To claim that Whitehall VFD responds as the primary VFD in a Brentwood area may be very incorrect. Maybe Whitehall council's issue should be with the Whitehall VFD who may have agreed to to send assistance. Maybe Whitehall VFD has some special arrangement with Brentwood VFD to handle certain calls for Brentwood VFD. It seems to me Whitehall council was led over the cliff by head lemming, Phil Lahr.
FF19 October 19, 2012 at 08:24 PM
Jerome and Rigatoni- This will all be worked out. The bottom line Whitehall Council may have struck a nerve by passing the resolution. However, this was based on some fact that they know their public works employee leaves his job with their permission to answer fire calls in Whitehall, Brentwood and other neighboring communities. Whitehall Council is being reasonable as they are funding his salary, at Whitehall taxpayer expense, and want accountability for his time no matter how little it may seem. For 65+ years Whitehall Council has recognized the importance of supporting their volunteer firefighters and other communities should take note of the partnership and model themselves after it. I know that Whitehall Council will have no objection of their employee leaving during working hours to help Brentwood Fire Company or any other Fire Dept when lives are in danger. What they don't want their employee doing is wasting their time responding to calls like minor vehicle accidents and smoldering trash cans. Mutual aid works best by having the cooperation between Fire Departments who work together well and who are backed with the full support of their municipalities. Whitehall Council's overall intent is to look after their taxpayer's interest and encouraging Brentwood to support their firefighters to address resource issues. If Brentwood or any other Fire Dept calls Whitehall Fire Company for help, they will come and not be billed for it by the Fire Company.
Michael October 19, 2012 at 09:22 PM
They are asking for $40 for anyone responding now not just employees. According to county they've been dropped from Brentwood's response so it's now a non-issue for Whitehall.
FF19 October 19, 2012 at 10:06 PM
Michael- Whitehall Fire Company has been dropped from Brentwood's response as of today. I would question your source on the $40 charge for anyone other than a Whitehall Borough employeee as that would be up to the Whitehall Fire Company officers and members to set that policy. If Brentwood Fire Company (or any other Fire Company) calls the Whitehall Fire Company, they will come to help and the Whitehall Fire Company will not charge them. Whether the Whitehall Borough wants to charge Brentwood Borough for use of their employee(s) during working hours is up to them as they are at Whitehall Borough's disposal. The Whitehall Fire Company has not billed or charged anyone within or outside the Borough for response and services. The only thing they will charge for are hazardous material mitigations and cleanups to recoup replacement costs for special materials used.
Robert Edward Healy, III October 19, 2012 at 10:43 PM
To clarify what most folks are already seeing, the $40 fee only applies for firefighters who are also Whitehall Borough employees. That's what I was told at Wednesday's council meeting.
Margaret French October 20, 2012 at 04:20 AM
I never said Brentwood was out partying and that is why they weren't responding. I am only replying to what was written in the article that was said by the council. I assumed it was because they are at work and couldn't respond.
Margaret French October 20, 2012 at 05:02 AM
Rigatoni- FF19 already gave an example of why the 911 system isn't so great. Learn how to read or to comprehend what you read. I also said "maybe" they are doing paperwork in their car. I said they sit down Caste for a reason, a specific reason. You seem to think you are so smart, go figure out why. I am not going to tell you. And like I stated before, go ride wiwth the PWD and see what they do in the summer time, you might be surprised. There is a lot more to do than you realize. I know one thing, if I have an emergency here I am not calling 911 I am calling 884-1100. I don't want an ambulance or fire truck showing up at a street with the same name in Timbucktoo in Allegheny County. It wastes valuable time, maybe even a life depends on it. That is why dispatchers are there.
Michael Dobs October 20, 2012 at 12:21 PM
Whitehall, the south hill, the county and the state should get with the times. A metro area the size of Pittsburgh should not have volunteers responding from all over the place. Look at the local area... (Whitehall, Brentwood, Castle Shannon, Baldwin, Pleasant Hills) they have 5 ladder trucks between them. In a area that 1 would be in most county run departments, 8 rescue trucks.. The city of Pittsburgh runs 2! 8 chiefs vehicles. There is a huge waste of money that would make up a paid department. But everybody is afraid to give up there slice of the pie. Put together fire and EMS throughout the county and pay the department and yu would raise the quality of service for each resident. This would cost $.25 of the $1.00.
BHS grad October 20, 2012 at 01:03 PM
Equipment is expensive but manpower cost more over time.Trucks last 15/20 years or more. Expenses for manpower over the same period of time would not be .25 of the $1.00. Right now the manpower is free. All volunteer fireman/medics should be thanked for that. Could some combine and save more, sure. Dispatch- much better service having your own then someone from the county. Ask any public service employee who lost thier dispatchers to 911. Or just lost thier own channel and have to listen to the other 27 departments on the shared channel now. A while ago a man who never worked with Whitehall dispatch talked about how it wasnt needed. I think he had a background as a medic. Ran for office, council I believe. Didnt make it. Might be on school board now. Maybe bashing in here? Mrs French- you made good points. Dont get upset with those who dont know any better and disagree. 5 kids? Spagetti- how much of your paid time with the fire dept was work? think maybe if some citizen saw you "working" at the station they would think you were doing something important? or would they think "why is he just sitting there?" Point is we don't know. Think all the local departments sit somewhere. Paid firemen just have a building to hide in. Volunteers dont need to hide as they have a life to live between calls.
Michael Dobs October 20, 2012 at 01:29 PM
I bet if you add what all +200 departments in the county pay each year you would pay less for a paid higher trained department. And doesn't the cost of a lawsuit due to a death because of lack of man power cost more than staffing. The volunteer service has gotten lucky to this point. Pennslyviana Fire... 200 years of tradition unimpeded by progress. I b
bd October 20, 2012 at 01:43 PM
Ask the City about their fire department costs. A County-wide paid department or even a local paid department would cost the taxpayers bigtime. The fire department union would want big pay and benefits just like local police departments. You are proposing that a quarter of a mill would cover it. Not in your wildest dreams would this be enough. Consolidations of local VFDs would save money but to say that paid fire departments is the path to cost savings is a big stretch.
old man October 20, 2012 at 02:17 PM
Here is a idea, there are some Volunteer dept's that offer dormitory style living, to college students in exchange for responding fo fire calls. Also some Volunteer dept's require their members to staff the station at all times. These are both good ideas to explore.
Margaret French October 20, 2012 at 04:06 PM
BHS grad-thanks. Yep, 5 kids.
FF16 October 20, 2012 at 07:11 PM
As a member of Whitehall Fire Co. for 35+ years the politicians have gone to far with this idea. I have a couple of questiosn for the politicians (1) how can you put a cost factor on PUBLIC safety (2) who pays for all the other volunteers who respond to calls who own their own business or takes time from their paid jobs to answer alarms... the answer to no.2 is NO-ONE ..that doesn't seem to bother anyone ! For years the local Fire Companies have responded to help each other when and where needed without any charge involved or any politician getting involved and that's the way it should remain.
Michael Dobs October 20, 2012 at 08:09 PM
If every resident in the county paid there $75 a year that the departments ask for, plus the state instance money, and money given by the Boros now it could be done. It would also reduce home owners instance by improving ISO ratings. If swissvale, McKeesport, and uniontown can have paid departments, Whitehall residence should not have to worry if the road crew is busy.
Jon Wain October 21, 2012 at 08:03 PM
it's a long tome comming. Brentwood needs to get off theis a----and get back to their big three statis. at one time ,if you wanted fires put out you call brentwood whitehall or pleasant hills. brentwood can't handle any type of fire on their own .bring back loffel,,crammer ;;wienghhimmer.Past chiefs
FF16 October 21, 2012 at 08:19 PM
FF88 and Jon Wain I agree with both of you...JW I haven't heard that expression for a long time but you are 100% correct..." The Big Three " could not be beat...and with a little help from each other still and will not be beat !
FF19 October 21, 2012 at 09:35 PM
FF88- To my knowledge, Whitehall has never failed to man a truck for a call unless there were arrangments made when they used to have an offsite annual picnic 30+ years ago. I agree with FF16 "the big three" were a force to be reckoned with and can be again with a little help. All and all, this should have been handled differently by Council consulting with the membership of WFC first to make us aware of their concerns and actions as it has a direct impact on WFC's relations with BVFC . I can also see Counnci'ls point too as their counterparts in Brenttwood do not want to make an effort to help their Fire Company as much they help theirs. Brentwood Council should not totally rely on WFC to provide fire protection without making an attempt to help their own Fire Company first. That is not fair to WFC or the taxpayers of Whitehall Borough.
FF84 October 21, 2012 at 11:20 PM
FF 16,19,&88....I can't agree with you guys more....and as a band of brothers out of the same station we stick together ....just as we would stick together for any of our fellow brothers regardless of the house they are out of, as volunteers! Counsil did what they thought was acceptable, but as ff19 said, they sould have atleast had the curtisy to talk to the members first...as volunteer companies we are all subject to the same daylight manpower problems....bottom line is we are all brothers and need to stick together
old man October 22, 2012 at 12:32 AM
I can definately remember the days when there was nothing that the big three stations 116, 301 and 232 could not handle. They definately a fire fighting group to be reckoned with. It would be great to see those days return.
Robert Edward Healy, III October 22, 2012 at 02:47 AM
The term "many" to describe the amount of firefighters who are also Whitehall Borough Public Works employees has been changed to "multiple."
FF88 October 22, 2012 at 02:48 PM
Robert, the correct answer of actual firefighters working public works is 2. The chief and the assistant chief of the fire company. Four others were former members of the company however are either no longer members or don't fight fire anymore.
Robert Edward Healy, III October 22, 2012 at 03:53 PM
Thank you.
old man October 25, 2012 at 04:40 PM
Once again I am tired of the bashing of Brentwood Fire Dept. All dept's have the same expenses incurred with running a fire dept. There was a time when fire depts helped each other willingly, I guess those time have changed with one fire dept. The only person talking like a FOOL is you. If you are going to call people FOOLS and bad mouth people, why not have the GUTS to identify yourself. And as for Brentwood and their station, they not Brentwood Boro are paying a mo making themonthly mortgage payment. And as for a new Pumper, it replaces one that is 31 years old. As I have said there are many fire depts, that are willing to come and help Brentwood and not even give a thought to asking for payment. Also one thing that I can't understand is how is a fire station only used half of the year. You are the one talking like a FOOL. I have a suggestion PUT YOUR BRAIN IN GEAR BEFORE RUNNING YOUR BIG MOUTH. YOU HAVE A GREAT DAY
cc October 25, 2012 at 11:54 PM
Rigatoni, from what I understood it was our men on our fire trucks that responded to Brentwood for all of these incidents as Brentwood never dispatched a truck. We Whitehall residents are paying the salaries of everyone on the truck, not just the Fire Chief that responded. The Fire Chief and men are on work time when they are responding to Brentwood and doesn't matter if they are fixing roads or cutting grass. They are on the time clock responding to another Community and Whitehall should be reimbursed for all of the man power, after all it is my taxes and other residents that are paying for them to cut grass or fix roads.
old man October 26, 2012 at 12:40 AM
You know what if this is how chicken s--t the money hungry Whitehall council want's to be then so be it. Maybe Whitehall boro has gotten to big for it's own good.
FF19 October 26, 2012 at 01:15 PM
Jerome- I believe I got the same post as you via email. However, I believe Robert Healy did not post it to be viewed as it was laced with profanity which was a wise decision. I would also like that person to identify themselves to me so I can discuss the matter with them. As I stated before and even though I back them, this matter Whitehall Council should have been handled differently before a vote was taken. It has created uneccessary hard feelings. I will state that your Borough should support you more.
Watcher October 27, 2012 at 03:30 PM
Wow , you people really went off track, I see it as jealousy. Whitehall Boro has A system that guarantees coverage. Brentwood DOES NOT! So, how could you expect to use Whitehalls personnell without having to reimburse them? Brentwood boro gives the fire company tens of thousands of dollars but does not ask for A guarentee of service. If someones house on Brownsville road catch fire at say, 11 in the morning, God forbid somebody trapped, Brentwood just hopes someone else will come because they dont want to pay A few bucks for guarenteed fire response? So what do you tell the family about there losing there house or possibly A loved one Brentwood firefighters? Well?

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