Leaders hear fire service challenges

Times Observer file photo Firefighters are seen battling a blaze in Youngsville in January.

One of the early signs that the county’s emergency medical service system was in crisis occurred when agencies started going out of service during the day on weekdays.

Local agencies and governmental entities have worked hard in recent years to address the staffing concerns that underpinned that challenge.

But now it’s starting to creep into fire response in the county, as well.

Warren County Director of Public Safety Ken McCorrison said there are now volunteer fire departments taking apparatus out of service during the day on weekdays due to staffing.

He said that’s “something (we’ve) not seen before.”

The potential consequence is obvious — the potential for delayed responses to structure fires.

McCorrison said that volunteers are “doing the best they can” but said the “struggle is real.”

“They are taking key pieces of apparatus they can’t staff and checking them out of service,” he said. “Everybody needs to know these guys are struggling, doing the best they can with what they have.”

COG chair Paul Pascuzzi said the issue was discussed at a recent meeting of the multi-municipal EMS commission, calling it “kind of a shock to be honest with you.”

He said a delay in fire response such as this “should resonate with everyone in the room.”

There was discussion about a potential need for more direct conversations between the departments and municipal elected leaders.

“(I) gotta give the chief some level of… credit for recognizing he had a problem.” Pascuzzi said. “(There) needs to be some tough love here, I’m afraid, when it comes to working with each other. The tough love might go both ways.”

McCorrison said that state law allows EMS agencies to call out of service for staffing.

“I can find nothing that says you can or cannot do that as a fire department,” McCorrison said.

Regardless of the legality, he argued that there’s a need to solve this problem at a level higher than individual departments.

“(We’re) at a point like we were at EMS,” McCorrison said. “We can’t try to solve the problem at one municipal level.

“It’s a systemic problem. It’s across the board. (We’re) only going to figure out how to get better by working together.”


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