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Two Cambria Co. fire departments may merge

Reported By: Melanie Gillespie
Written By: Marc Stempka

CRESSON, Pa. -- It's a problem being faced by many volunteer fire departments and communities with dwindling populations: How can firefighters keep the engines and trucks running with fewer people and less money. In two Cambria County communities, the often terrifying word "merger" is being thrown into the discussion.

The Cresson Volunteer Fire Company and the Lilly Community Volunteer Fire Company are a little more than three miles, or a five-minute drive, apart, but faced with fewer volunteers and more expenses, leaders with the stations and in their communities are looking at possibly merging the two departments.

But any kind of shared operation could be months away, as some on their respective sides work out the differences. And some still have questions that need to be answered.

"This is two departments that can stand on their own, but both memberships want to look at the future, [and] to provide for the future," Cresson Volunteer Fire Company President Joe Adams said. "It's the way the volunteer fire service is going to go in the commonwealth to survive."

Across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania over the past 15 years, the numbers of volunteer firefighters have dropped from 300,000 to 50,000 and those numbers may continue to fall. Officials have no option but to look at costs and manpower and see where consolidations and mergers may need to be made.

"Present memberships of both departments are looking at five years down the road, what's going to happen there," Adams said. "Where's the manpower going to be, what's it going to cost to maintain a fire department?"

But despite the apparent support for a consolidation in Cresson, some in Lilly have questions about the future of any operations. Lilly Mayor Jack Barlick said insurance concerns are a big issue.

"What happens to the activities that go on in Lilly, where does Lilly stand eventually in this?" Barlick said. "Do we maintain a fire station or not because there's different things involved, like your insurance ratings are based by how close a fire hall is to your property."

Adams said both departments are doing their legwork with reviewing paperwork and background into a possible merger. The departments are looking at what is or is not going to be needed for their futures and also working with their respective solicitors.

"Both departments are wanting to take it nice and slow to make sure we get everything documented and we have a stronger department at the end," Adams said.

Barlick said workman's compensation insurance for firefighters, which is usually paid in part by the municipalities for which they provide coverage, is also a concern.

Cresson officials hope to have a deal finalized by the end of the year and said both departments would remain open.

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Edgar Snyder

Washington Times