With no advance notice, and no clear announcement of this subject on the agenda, the Cheltenham Township Commissioners made a rash decision that needs to be reversed!
The ink on the DCED study was not even dry, when this action happened.
This study was not reviewed or discussed by the Fire Board, as to its recommendations, and if and how, any actions would be taken. The Fire Board is the duly authorized committee of fire chiefs, the experts. The commissioners say they listened to the experts, however no Fire Board discussion recommended our closing. The only “experts” the commissioners listened to would be the study author, and the Fire Marshal, who acted outside his duties if this is his recommendation. His duties are for Fire investigation, and enforcing fire codes, as well as Fire Prevention.
The FMP stated: (5yr financial study)
“Reducing the number of stations and apparatus may be one of the ways to deploy resources more efficiently, but there may be impact on operations that we have not addressed here. The Township should evaluate the findings from the fire consultant study (DCED) that is currently underway to determine whether this is a viable option or how it might become viable.”
The fire marshal mentioned a mutual aid response that will help offset our closure. The mutual aid agreement with outside townships is a long standing agreement NOT a newly secured deal. It is meant to be an additional resource to each township’s own response. It was never meant to replace the individual township responsibility, to protect its citizens. As all fire departments have the same recruitment issues, it has been more prevalent to call our neighboring companies. However simply put, those volunteers did not sign up to be a regional fire service. Those volunteers signed up to protect their own communities as we did to serve ours.
The statements to the opinion of this action making it a “stronger and more resilient department” is not shared by the members of Ogontz or many of our fellow volunteers that have reached out to us in support. The only way the quoted things (our members joining other companies and strengthening their crews) from your Jan 5th article would happen, would be if we shared the commissioner’s opinions. That we are “ok” with this decision. That we agree with closing, and that we all will “happily” submit our applications to other fire companies and make them stronger.
We do not agree with this action. A response from our station has and still can, only improve the overall township response. The fire marshal and Board President’s statements are purely political, trying to lead our citizens to believe this action actually makes the department BETTER.
We do not argue our membership numbers were low, however only recent health issues and personnel transfers made this more of an issue. This is a national fire company problem. It is still a pandemic and new recruits cannot easily be found or trained during this situation. We do argue that despite our numbers, we have consistently responded our first apparatus with adequate staff for the majority of the year. We assisted our neighboring district on every call as they also experienced low members and had difficulty in making a response.
In fact, call volumes are down this year because people are home during the pandemic. That has also INCREASED our crew responses. Many of us have been more available to respond since the pandemic and our other companies have also noticed increased crew numbers to their calls.
The Fire Marshal stated, “The downside to this, at this point there is not a downside, but … in the future the building’s still gonna be there so in the future if there’s an uptick in membership, then we can revisit it at that point in time and make recommendations to the commissioners and guide the commissioners with what to do.”
We have already received enough applications to put us back into the number of required responders. My belief is that they will not revisit our certification and again are just throwing out meaningless quotes to the press and public to make it appear as if they are open to helping us fix our problem. Ask them to go on the record and state “if Ogontz grows its crew members to the required level will they immediately reinstate Ogontz to service?” I hope they prove me wrong. I hope that they can be responsible enough to admit a mistake, and let us plan for a better fire department.
We are ready and waiting to be a part of the solution, as we have for 128 years. If a change is to be made that improves the response and safety of our residents, then we should be involved in that process, not closed down and excluded. As of this writing, the township manager has only inquired about moving assets and firefighters and will not discuss reopening. We ask our residents to support our request and reach out to the township commissioners directly.
Thank you for your support,
President, Ogontz Fire Company