Reading fire chief offers to cover Bern Township during the day, for a price
By Greta Cuyler
Reading Eagle

Bern Township fire officials are considering a contract to have the Reading Fire Department respond to daytime emergencies in the township.

Greenfields Fire Company in Bern suffers from a lack of volunteers, especially during daytime hours.

Reading Fire Chief William H. Rehr III has offered Reading's services to Bern from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays.

Greenfields would pay Reading a minimum of $75 per hour for routine calls and $150 per hour for working structure fires, with a four-hour, or $600, minimum.

In the past four years, Bern averaged 86 fire calls a year during weekdays. Of those, 79 were routine calls that took less than an hour, and seven were working fires.

Based on those figures, the Reading Fire Department agreement would cost Greenfields $10,125 a year.

Currently, Greenfields spends an average of $357 to respond to each of its own fire calls for an annual cost of $30,702, said Charles F. Rohrer, co-chairman of a task force studying staffing and other issues for Greenfields and the Mount Pleasant Fire Company in neighboring Penn Township.

Greenfields Deputy Chief Steven C. Kelley said Reading's proposal could be a problem because Reading uses fire hydrants and Bern doesn't have hydrants throughout the township.

There's also a question about whether Reading firefighters could use Bern's tanker if they haven't been trained on it.

Mount Pleasant Fire Chief Brian Etchberger said the proposal could affect minimum staffing levels in the city, which could upset Reading's fire union.

And other fire companies may want to be paid when assisting with calls in Bern.

"Chief Rehr is trying to help Bern Township out," Etchberger said. "But when this gets publicized, why wouldn't surrounding communities say, 'We want in on that.' "

Another idea involves a merger between Greenfields and Mount Pleasant.

A proposal submitted by Greenfields Fire Chief Scott Haupt lists two merger options: one with minimal changes and another that would employ a paid administrative fire chief, who would work in Bern Township and oversee both fire companies.

To merge the companies, the task force would have to change both companies' bylaws and likely separate both from their social clubs. The social clubs pay fire station expenses, including heat, electricity and telephone.

The loss of those payments could range from $5,000 to $20,000 a year per fire company, Kelley said.

Meanwhile, Penn Township officials are still listening to all proposals, despite announcing earlier that they would back out of the task force discussions.

Penn Supervisors Chairman Kyle P. Loder said his major concern is how Mount Pleasant Fire Company will survive financially in the next year.

Right now, the company doesn't have the $35,000 it needs for a July payment on its fire truck, he said.

Penn Township doesn't have a fire tax, so the fire department relies on funding from the state, township and donations, Rohrer said.
Does anyone out there have an arrangement like the one the Bern Twp is asking of the Reading Fire Department?

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