Firefighters from Jeannette and Penn Borough will be responding to calls together in 2019.
Under a dual response system, firefighters from the two neighboring stations will automatically be dispatched to each others’ emergency calls only within the two municipalities.
Both fire chiefs hope the move will alleviate manpower concerns.
“They are the closest company to us,” Penn Borough fire Chief Nick Dreistadt said. “They usually have some personnel available at all times of the day or night.”
“For now, it’s going to stay two independent companies, just assisting each other with manpower and equipment,” Jeannette fire Chief Bill Frye said.
The state’s fire and rescue services are facing a crisis as the number of firefighters has decreased dramatically over the last few decades, according to a legislative study released in November. In the 1970s, there were about 300,000 volunteer firefighters in the state. That number now is about 38,000, according to the study.
The majority of the state’s 2,500 fire companies are run by volunteers.
Both chiefs said the system could potentially lead to a department merger and consolidation, but there are a lot of dynamics to work out before that might happen.
Even though Jeannette’s firefighters are paid, they’re still faced with a decrease in members, Frye said. They have three full-time firefighters and several part-timers who started in early 2018 supplementing the shift work. The department has a list of 28 on-call firefighters, less than half of the roster allowance of 60. The part-timers live outside of Jeannette, but the others must live within city limits.
They get about 850 calls a year, approximately 600 of them in Jeannette.
Penn Borough has 18 active volunteer firefighters. The small borough of about one square mile gets 125 calls annually, 30 of which are in borough limits. Firefighters’ work and family commitments can make it tough to have the manpower for calls.
“We are usually good for six to eight firefighters on a call,” Dreistadt said.
The departments will be dispatched together to emergency calls in Jeannette or Penn Borough, such as fires and vehicle crashes with injuries. They will not use the dual response system for nonemergency calls, such as a tree or wires down. If one of the departments is dispatched to help at an incident outside of their municipality, the other will man their station until fire trucks return.
The new system will reduce response time and add equipment.
Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Renatta at 724-837-5374, [email protected] or via Twitter @byrenatta.