CLEARFIELD – A historic moment will occur on January 2.
That is the official date that the four volunteer fire companies serving Clearfield Borough will merge their organizations completely into one corporate structure.
“There are so many advantages to the fire companies fully pooling their resources and personnel so that we can focus all our energies more effectively on public safety,” said Ed Heberling, President of The Clearfield Fire Department, which is made up of the separate companies that have served the Borough for many years: Third Ward Hose Co., Second Ward Fire Company, Elk Hose Company, and The Clearfield Fire Company No. 1.
“We all work together very well as members of The Clearfield Fire Department so this merger was a natural progression of that. It will help us to strengthen our finances, shore up our manpower, and help us plan better for our future needs to protect our community,” Heberling said.
Citizens will continue to call 911 for emergency service and the level of fire and rescue service that the public will see will remain the same after the corporate merger is complete, Heberling pointed out.
Informational meetings were held in January 2008, where legal counsel for The Clearfield Fire Department outlined the steps necessary to legally merge and the pros and cons of a merger were discussed with about 50 members of the four companies. The four companies held meetings where their respective memberships voted on the proposed merger in late July/early August 2008. All four companies decided that the corporate merger of the four separate companies into one company would enable them to better serve the members of their community. There was little opposition to the decision to merge.
“The Clearfield fire companies have been very forward thinking in the interest of doing what is best for the community,” said Steve Wirth, attorney from Page, Wolfberg & Wirth, LLC a Mechanicsburg-based law firm that specializes in representing emergency service organizations. “Years ago these companies got together to share resources and coordinate major purchases by establishing The Clearfield Fire Department as a separate nonprofit corporation. In this case, it was not a difficult process to completely merge the individual fire companies into that already existing corporation,” said Wirth, who is also an active volunteer firefighter.
In addition to the simple benefit of cutting the number of meetings that volunteers would have to attend, Heberling commented on numerous other advantages to a merger.
“This will make our organizational structure more efficient, will likely reduce costs of operation overall, and provide us added clout for obtaining grants and other funding,” he said. “As one single entity, we can better focus too on recruitment and retention and potentially provide length of service awards for our dedicated members who give so much of their time so that we can attract new and qualified firefighters into our ranks,” Heberling noted.
Clearfield, like many communities across Pennsylvania, has seen a significant reduction in the number of active, trained, volunteer firefighters. A Legislative Budget and Finance Committee Report from 2005 noted that Pennsylvania’s nearly 2,400 fire companies — more fire companies than any other state — have seen a 76 percent decrease in membership since 1976, meaning fewer active firefighters. Reasons cited for the decline include stringent training requirement for volunteers, ever increasing hours devoted to fund raising and non-firefighting activities, and the longer distances people must travel to their jobs. The Pennsylvania Senate Resolution 60 Commission reported in November 2004 that, “If we lose our volunteer fire companies and volunteer firefighters, the added taxpayer cost for firefighter salaries and benefits alone is estimated at a conservative $6 billion annually.”
This merger of the four fire companies is consistent with recommendations from these recent state reports as well as the recommendations of a “Peer-to-Peer Assessment Report” completed for Clearfield Borough by a consultant for the Pennsylvania Department of Economic and Community Development in 2002.
“We want to reduce the bureaucracy and work more closely with our elected officials in the Borough to provide the most effective and efficient service for our community. This merger will do that just that. I am really looking forward to the date of our merger, January 2, 2009. It will be a historic day for the fire service in Clearfield Borough, a day that came about because of the hard work of our members and the willingness to set aside our personal interests to do what is right to better serve our community,” Heberling said.