Merger worthy of study

Whether or not two Blair County volunteer fire companies — Pinecroft of Antis Township and Excelsior of Bellwood Borough — ultimately merge, an upcoming study examining the feasibility of combining the two departments stands to benefit the municipalities that they serve.

The study, which will be carried out by a consultant paid by the state Department of Community and Economic Development, will look at the geography that the companies cover, as well as whether the departments’ financial stability would be enhanced and manpower needs bolstered under a single, streamlined organizational structure.

Opting for the study doesn’t mean one of the two fire stations necessarily would have to close; indeed, considering the territory that the two companies cover, it’s more likely that both current stations would be maintained but both would be improved by access to each other’s resources.

This is a time when state government looks favorably upon municipalities and entities that enter into cooperative ventures. Perhaps there will be a time when the state will in some way reward the two companies — or the combined department, if that occurs — for having opted for this open-minded examination.

It’s unfortunate that the demise of the Tipton-Antis Volunteer Fire Company in 2016 has prevented a deeper look into the volunteer fire service for that sector of the county, but the troubles that brought Tipton-Antis’ closure could have complicated what lies ahead.

For residents of Bellwood and Antis Township, the coming study should be embraced with optimism, even though, traditionally, community fire departments have operated generally without any outside input or thought to substantial change.

Trouble is, the loyalty that communities harbor toward their firefighting units oftentimes isn’t rewarded with the manpower and financial support that the departments deserve.

Many volunteer fire companies across Pennsylvania are struggling with anemic manpower resources threatening their future and are hard-pressed financially in keeping up to date with firefighting equipment.

Those two realities pose uncertainty and dangers for the people and community entities that depend on them.

The upcoming study will weigh all of that as it pertains to Bellwood and the township.

Leadership of both departments deserve praise for their willingness to participate in the study.

Lucas Martsolf, Antis Township manager, was quoted in the April 7 Mirror as saying “we feel now is the right time for the township and the two fire companies . . . to explore the possibility of a fire company merger.” He went on to say that leaders of the two departments “agreed that it is in the best interest of the community at large to at least explore . . . any route to improve fire service.”

Antis Township supervisors voted to send DCED a letter of intent requesting study assistance; Martsolf said DCED officials already had offered to pay for the consultant’s work.

Antis Supervisor Robert Smith rightly described the study as a “big step” meriting a great deal of credit to fire service leaders who have opened the way for it.

Again, whether or not a merger is forthcoming, the study will pave a road for effective, efficient firefighting capabilities for the years ahead.

No doubt volunteer fire companies in other areas of the state with issues they’d like to overcome will be watching how the Blair study proceeds and, more importantly, its outcome.

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