After nearly eliminating the Emmaus Fire Department’s overnight standby shift, the Emmaus Borough Council voted 4-3 Monday night to save the borough’s existing round-the-clock coverage by amending the 2013 budget.
To offset the adjusted budget, the tax millage rate will increase to 4.325 mills. Council will hold a special meeting to vote on the new rate at 8:30 a.m. on December 24.
Before the amendment passed, the budget allotted just $72,000 for paid on-call standby firefighters, or volunteer firefighters who are paid to respond to calls, which would have eliminated the overnight shift.
Where the fire department currently responds in one to two minutes, without a crew at the station through the night response times would have jumped to 10 minutes. That delay could be attributed to the fact that firefighters would no longer be dispatched from the station. Instead, they would respond to calls from home.
After listening to public comments that began just after 7 p.m. and ended at 8:48 p.m. and holding an executive session, Council member Brian Holtzhafer proposed putting $80,000 back into the fire department’s budget, giving it $152,000 to continue the overnight shift. Holtzhafer also said firefighters could continue sleeping at the station, which means response times will remain steady.
Inside the packed room lined with firefighters, sentiments included a mixture of praise for the department and fear of reduced coverage.
Many referred to the volunteers as professional, highly qualified, and a real value—according to fire department calculations, each resident pays less than 4 cents per day to have a volunteer firefighter standing by.
Many expressed concern for the safety of their families and neighbors. According to several firefighters who spoke at Monday’s meeting, fire quadruples in size every minute.
“We may never need it [overnight coverage]. But when we do, you better pray to God it’s there,” said Emmaus resident Jason Hinkle.
Citing legal problems with the department’s structure, Council members Nathan Brown, Brent Labenberg and Wesley Barrett voted against the amendment. The council members who voted for the change did so on the condition that the firefighters work with council to resolve any remaining issues.