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Harmony Fire District calls for more volunteers

Harmony Fire District chief Scott Garing raises the flag at the 2018 Harmony Fire District open house. Butler Eagle File Photo
Appeal made at Lancaster supervisors meeting

LANCASTER TWP — Firefighters in Harmony this week asked residents for help with a staffing shortage.

“If you have family members, if you have someone that’s interested in volunteering with us, we’ll find a spot for them, whether it’s being the firefighter that runs into the building, or if it’s the group meeting right now down at the station that strictly handles business,” said Kevin Behun, who serves as president of Harmony Fire District.

Behun and Fire District Chief Scott Garing spoke before an audience at a township board of supervisors meeting on Monday, Nov 21. Both added that volunteers for the fire district didn’t need to have training as a first responder to help out.

“Unfortunately, some of us are getting older, trying to get the new blood in, trying to get the newer equipment, so that we can maintain a level of readiness that we all need in the community, has gotten a little easier by having that support,” Behun said.

“We’ve been busy,” he said. “If you guys haven’t noticed, the growth in the area is not just affecting us, but other municipalities we serve.”

The Harmony Fire District team currently runs around 600 calls each year. That marks more than an 18% increase since the 2015 merger between Harmony Volunteer Fire Company and Zelienople Fire Department, he said.

Harmony Fire District serves the boroughs of Harmony and Zelienople, and Jackson and Lancaster townships.

Behun said costs for a new fire station, whose construction he expects will start before 2023, have placed a heavy strain on the fire district’s finances. The fire district has received some help from neighboring communities and state grant programs, but a financial shortfall still limits staffing, he said.

Garing said Harmony Fire District officials hope, with better staffing, to become a 24-hour, daily operation.

Staffing levels at the station can vary greatly depending on the number of volunteers available, although the fire district always expects additional turnout from first responders on call from home, Behun said.

Records suggest that remote work, brought about by the height of COVID-19, also helped deliver more rapid response times, since more volunteers could help out at the station, Garing said.

Average fire unit response times have shortened from 30 to 5 minutes since the 1970s, he said.

Having more people at the fire station, maybe even through a stipend staffing program, could improve response time more, he said.

“That gives our volunteers some small value, to be able to stay at the firehouse for a set amount of hours and get a fire engine out the door immediately, to be able to help any one of you in a time of need,” he said.

Comprehensive plan

Planning consultant Barb Ciampini also outlined further steps for the township’s comprehensive plan.

Township leaders aimed to pass the plan as a bill by October 2023, she said.

“I'd like to get the steering committee together to reengage them in the comprehensive planning process,” she said. “It’s my understanding that it’s a very engaging group … So the more committee is involved, the better off we are for the future of our children.”

Further stages of the plan would include public comment periods, surveys that residents could complete online or elsewhere, and chances to amend the following plan.

Roadmaster resigns

The board also unanimously approved the resignation of roadmaster Mike Spiker, which went into effect Nov. 14.

Spiker did not provide a formal statement for his resignation.

Lancaster Township’s roadmaster performs a supervisory role, leading road maintenance work and other responsibilities related to roads, according to township manager C. Michael Foote.

Foote says he will serve in an interim role for many roadmaster responsibilities until the township selects a new roadmaster.

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