By Jamie Wiggan
More than four years after Ingram’s volunteer department was dissolved and an agreement struck with the City of Pittsburgh to instead provide services the borough president says the deal has saved money and ensured prompt and effective service.
“Overall it’s been good,” Ingram President Sam Nucci said. “We’re very happy with the four-minute response time and the professionalism of the Pittsburgh city fire department.”
Faced with upfront costs for new trucks and equipment, Ingram council voted in April 2016 to approve a five-year contract with the city for a total of $459,170, which factored in a $100,000 reduction for the transferral of the volunteer company’s aging assets. Last December, the borough locked in a 5-year extension averaging around $120,000 per year, according to Nucci.
Nucci said the volunteer department’s operating costs were around $105,000 during its final year in service, but would have required at least one new truck costing more than $750,000 to continue servicing borough residents.
“The biggest thing is we didn’t have to go into debt to buy the new equipment and we get professional service,” Nucci said.
Across the state, volunteer fire-fighting departments are struggling with shortages in funding and volunteers.
A Pennsylvania Senate resolution report released in 2018 noted state-wide volunteer numbers had fallen below 40,000 from around 300,000 in the 1970s. The report warned of an unfolding “public safety crisis...due to the continuing decline in the ranks of our emergency service volunteers.”
One of the report’s 28 recommendations encourages greater regionalization of service providers.
One example is merging departments, as did the Fleming Park and West Park companies in 2011, forming Stowe Township’s Volunteer Fire Department.
Speaking to Gazette 2.0 last year, Stowe’s chief David Gallagher said the process met resistance at first but ultimately resulted in a more efficient and effective service for the township’s residents.
Also in 2011, the Pittsburgh department merged with neighboring Wilkinsburg, a borough east of the city with a population of approximately 15,000.
Contracting services with neighboring municipalities is a less-tested model in Allegheny County. Although Pittsburgh officials have expressed interest in providing coverage to more municipalities, Ingram was the first and so far the only community to do so.
“It’s nice to know I don’t have to worry about [volunteer numbers and large equipment purchases,]” Nucci said. “There’s a lot of peace of mind not having that liability.”