WARREN, Pa. – The public has had its say, now it’s time for Warren City Council to decide whether to amend the current fire/EMS agreement between the city and Pleasant Township.
That proposed amendment is one of the agenda items for Monday’s council meeting. Under the current pilot program, two city fire/EMS staff are stationed at Pleasant Township between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The proposed amended agreement would have city personnel at Pleasant Monday through Friday.
The amended agreement was on the September meeting agenda, but was tabled to allow for a public comment on the matter.
The public hearing took place Oct. 15 where City of Warren Fire Department and Pleasant Township Volunteer Fire Department gave a presentation outlining why the current pilot program is mutually beneficial. The pilot program has been in place since Sept. 1 and has drawn both rave reviews and concerned criticism.
“(It) has been working flawlessly to date,” Warren Fire Chief Rodney Wren said. “There has been a tremendous amount of work involved in this program and the list of people from Pleasant and the City that should be appreciated, is lengthy.”
Residents who spoke at Thursday’s meeting seemed to favor the amended agreement.
“To me, it seems like a no-brainer,” Mike Lyon of Warren, said. “The plan is self-supporting.”
“Why wouldn’t you do this?” Ron Hoffman of Pleasant Township said. “What’s the problem, Warren? Even if it’s break-even, but it increases response, whey are we not.”
Some council members have expressed concern the program is putting city tax dollars in Pleasant Township while reducing resources within the city.
“The agreement, as written, goes against city residents,” City Council member John Wortman said during the September council meeting.
“I’m uncomfortable having our employees out of the city,” City Council member Paul Giannini said. “If we’re here, we respond faster to city residents. I don’t think it’s a good idea to have our employees outside the city. The city needs to come first.”
Volunteer staffing has been a statewide issue for over a decade, according to former Warren Fire Chief Sam Pascuzzi.
“Townships are seeing longer response times,” Pascuzzi said during Thursday’s presentation. “That equates to a reduction in services, which has accelerated over the last five years.”
By law, the city is required to go to calls throughout the county if those municipalities are unable to respond. If responding under a mutual aid agreement, those calls may not be compensated.
What the agreement does, Wren explained, is create a scenario where Pleasant Township pays for those calls instead of the city trying to get payment from an insurance provider.
Under the current pilot program, Pleasant Township is paying $416 per day or $1,248 per week for the two city personnel. Over the course of a year, that would be approximately $64,896.
If the proposal to increase the program to five days a week passes, the township would be paying $2,080 per week. Over the course of a 52-week calendar year, that would be $108,160 give or take for the possibility of how the weeks fall for Monday through Friday coverage.
Under the program, the city also has more immediate access to the township’s equipment, something that has already paid dividends during the pilot program.
“We’ve had the Pleasant ambulance come into the city when our two are out and we’ve had that happen a number of times,” City Manager Nancy Freenock told Your Daily Local in an interview. “We had a fire and our two guys brought the Pleasant tanker. They were there a minute after our guys were there.”
The current volunteer crisis isn’t likely to end soon and Freenock believes the city and surrounding municipalities should be proactive in taking steps to solve it locally before it worsens.
“I don’t see the legislature taking this on,” Freenock said. “So we’re left to figure it out on our own and let’s do it in a way that makes sense for everyone.”
Monday’s City Council meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. in council chambers.