Resident’s Letter Supports Reinstatement of Fire Company’s Proposed Budget Cut

The following letter of support to reinstate the proposed budget cut to the fire companies appeared in this week’s Main Line Suburban newspaper.  Although Kathleen Keohane of Malvern speaks of the proposed $3.5 million reduction in overall township spending, it is the Fire Department that receives her major attention.  Kathleen offers her explanation of what this decrease in township conributions will mean to Berwyn, Radnor and Paoli Fire Departments.

Support volunteer firefighters

To the Editor:

I hope Tredyffrin residents are paying close attention. On Nov. 30 the Board of Supervisors voted 4-2 to pass the 2010 preliminary budget. It features a whopping $3.8-million reduction in spending, almost 15 percent below last year’s operating budget. And it does so in the name of holding the line on property taxes – even as transfer-tax revenues continue to decline.

But in my view this lean budget comes at a significant cost to our community’s safety and vital services, especially in terms of our fire departments. Berwyn and Paoli fire companies are manned mostly by volunteers, and adequate funding has been an ongoing struggle for them. In fact, until 2007, Tredyffrin provided no capital contribution for the replacement of costly equipment. It was all the responsibility of the fire companies themselves.

Next year our local tax dollars will provide less than $300,000 toward the $2-million-plus operating expenses of the Berwyn and Paoli fire companies. Easttown and Willistown’s combined contributions to B.F.D. and P.F.D. will account for about half that amount.

That leaves a huge funding gap to be filled by insurance reimbursements and fund-raising. And it doesn’t even begin to cover the huge capital costs our fire departments incur in order to purchase major pieces of equipment. For example the replacement cost of an ambulance is about $150,000, a fire engine $500,000 and a new ladder truck over $1 million. And Berwyn Fire Company is in need of all of these in the next two years.

These are staggering costs for volunteer fire departments to manage. Yet we expect them to save lives and protect property with this minimal level of taxpayer support. And commit more time for training and spend more time fund-raising than ever before.

Is it any wonder that the number of people willing to volunteer as firefighters has declined greatly in recent years? Have taxpayers really considered the real cost of maintaining a full-time firefighting/EMS staff in Tredyffrin? It has been estimated at $7-12 million – and that’s annually.

So when Tredyffrin makes across-the-board cuts in tough times, our already underfunded fire departments really suffer. They need more support, not less – from the township as well as individuals and businesses that benefit from their services.

Notably both Easttown and Willistown have decided not to reduce their funding for fire and ambulance services in 2010.

So please step up. Get the facts on Tredyffrin’s proposed budget cuts and funding levels for public safety. Call your supervisors and let them know you want to see the fire companies’ funding restored to the 2010 budget. And please get out your checkbook and contribute to the most worthy of organizations – your local fire companies.

Your life may depend on it. Just ask the disabled woman rescued from her burning Chesterbrook home on Thanksgiving afternoon. Tredyffrin police, fire and rescue responded in a matter of minutes and saved her life and her property.

Kathleen E. Keohane, Malvern

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