Living in a civilized society means, in part, that if your house goes up in flames a squad of firefighters will show up to douse the blaze.
That’s a fact most of us thankfully don’t have to think about much, but it’s one of the many amazing and complicated facts we take for granted every day.
In the Town of Bethlehem, fire departments over the past 13 months have worked with a private company on a study of fire service in the town, and how it could be done better and cheaper. The results were recently released.
We hope residents will use this report as an opportunity to better acquaint themselves with what they’re paying for. We’re guessing not everyone has the time to sift through its 200 pages though, which is why Greg Fry has a full story on the findings.
The conclusions are not that surprising. Manitou Inc. figures the town’s residents are getting good, responsible fire service for their tax dollars, and makes some sensible suggestions for improvements.
First of all, we must applaud the town’s fire districts for conducting this study. “Shared services” and finding “efficiencies” have been the chief buzzwords of municipal government for the past couple of years, but all too often these end up being mere talking points.
Which brings us to our second point. We would implore our fire services to take action on the recommendations of this report. Don’t let these pages collect dust on a shelf (the Town of Bethlehem already has a small library of such work), even if that means making some sweeping changes.
The report mentions the possibility of consolidating the town’s five fire districts down to two and eventually one large entity, a pretty big change. John Lutz, chairman of the inter-district collaborative planning task force, told us it’s important for fire departments to maintain their identities. We’d submit it’s more important the residents of this town receive the best fire protection possible, especially if it can be provided at a savings. Let’s not let an aversion to change get in the way of progress.
Also mentioned in the study is an underlying problem you don’t need a consultant to figure out. Volunteer fire departments here in Bethlehem and elsewhere are dealing with a crisis of membership that is quickly becoming endemic.
This is likely to become even worse if current trends continue. Young people are quitting Bethlehem, the remaining population is growing older and families are being forced to work harder to make ends meet, meaning volunteers will increasingly be unable to leave work to answer calls (the study shows while nearly all firefighters are employed, far fewer respond from work — we’re told Town Hall tends to empty out when some departments receive a fire call, by the way).
So while we’d certainly encourage our readers to examine this report and, moreover, to attend tonight’s public meeting on the matter at the BC High School, we’d also suggest the best way to improve fire services in town may very well be with your own time or means. For more information on how you can volunteer for area fire or EMS services, visit www.joinemsfire.org.