Ben Oostdam story # 194


On this last day of the month of our Sep 5 fire, I decided to call the Millersville Fire Chief, Keith Eshleman, and ask for an interview to help solve some of my questions.
Keith was most generous and came over within an hour to answer a dozen questions I had compiled.
Below is a summary of our talk.
Keith joined the Millersville Fire Company (MFC) in 1976, and was elected Chief annually since 1999.
All 58 active MFC firemen are volunteers, ranging in age from 18 to 70, though most of them are under 30. (about a dozen are MU OSHA students)

Of the 82 fire companies in Lancaster County, all but one consist entirely of volunteers, the exception being Lancaster City itself.
MFC has an annual operating budget of about $ 120K. This is raised mainly from voluntary donations, including some $ 12K from the Municipality - which also by law provides payment for Workman's Compensation - and supplemented by such fund-raising activities as barbedue dinners, car-washes and Christmas tree sales.
MFC owns 2 fire engines (pumpers) worth about $400K each, two tankers (2,100 gals, $ 300K) and, most recently acquired, a rescue truck of $700K; they do not own a ladder truck which would cost about $ 1M. These vehicles have life expectancies between 15 - 20 years and are only bought when fund is available (not on credit).
The elapsed time between my 911 call and the first arrival of firemen was 6 minutes. Usually their response time lies between 6 and 8 minutes. In our particular case, the problem was to obtain sufficient water: a total of 64K gallons was used. That required some 12 fire engines.

The protocol provides for a call-taker at 911 alerting a dispatcher who checks a matrix of the CAD (computer aided dispatch) system assigning a single fire company chief to take charge. At first alarm, the chief sends 2 pumpers, 2 tankers and rescue truck; if this is not sufficient, there are another three alarms, each of which call for assistance of neighboring fire companies. In our case, a total of 12 trucks was mobilized. The fire chief is in charge and decides the number of alarms and the time to dismiss unnecessary crews and equipment.
In case another fire occurs in the response areas of any cooperative companies, CAD alerts an alternative chief.

In the 1960's, several fire companies would race to a fire and matters were rather disorganized. In the 1970's, the 911 system reached Lancaster County, and in the 1980'2 enhanced 911. CAD dates from the 1990's. While, on the one hand, technology makes major progress, on the other hand, changing life styles and competition make it hard to recruit volunteers. For example, in a recent questionnaire mailed to 5,200 people, only two people had responded to volunteer for such other than active services as fund-raising. His active volunteers, therefore, do not only have to work their way through some 200 hours of basic classes, but in addition have to be availble for the "other activities" to raise the funds required for the basic activities. In addition, most people already work two jobs. The Chief himself has a full-time job and averages 40-50 hours weekly doing the duties of fire chief, including internal and external attending meetings.
In view of these circumstances, he agreed that more government funding is direly needed. As a result of 9-11 terrorism in 2001, the Federal Government started the Fire Act Program in which proposals can be sent in to obtain funding; its initial appropriation was about $ 700M but it decreased since, and he had been unsuccessful in his submission, as were most of the nations's many departments. Obviously, major increases in funding are required. As a good politican, Keith avoided the trap to comment on the Administration's efforts to provide funds to foreign nations to improve their fire, police and ambulance responses at the cost of US tax payers who do not themselves have adequate coverage...
I also enquired about the MFC interactions with FEMA, PEMA and LEMA, since in 1995 I had been one of the originators at Millersville University to arrange for an Emergency Management Program bringing on board the Lancaster County Emergency Manager, Randy Gockley, and setting up a website for EHEM: Environmental Hazard and Emergency Management - which MU discontinued after my retirement. The program itself was finally approved some 7 years later.
There do not appear any significant interactions, because protocol dictates that all fires reported to 911 fall under the responsibilty of Fire Chiefs, except in cars on public highways which resort under Police, while spills, explosions, terrorism and other natural and environmental hazards are the 'bailiwick" of LEMA and up.
In terms of interactions with Millersville University and Millersville Borough, there seemed to be some more cooperation, but certainly not as much as I had anticipated.
Chief Eshleman and his volunteers are to be commended on their devotion to duty, as are his many equivalents all over the Nation.
Without additional government funding, however, the "handwriting is on the wall" for voluntary fire - and ambulance services, which threaten to become historic relics in a few years or decades, in my opinion.
The Chiefs answer to the specific question as to whether government funding is necessary or not, was immediate: "Absolutely" .
His reason: " Because people calling 911 expect service!"

Therefore, upon due consideration, I recommend that:
'we, the voters, should bring this matter to the attention
of our representatives and legislators.' ACTION!

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