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2 volunteer fire companies in Upper Milford plead for more funding


As seen on WFMZ October 16, 2023 By Rose Itovitz, Steve Althouse

UPPER MILFORD TWP., Pa. –The Upper Milford Township Board of Supervisors in Lehigh County discussed the future of firefighting during a special meeting Monday night.

Two independent volunteer fire companies in the township are both looking for equal funding, and they shared information with supervisors to help them understand all the costs involved for the volunteers to save lives.

Representatives from the township’s Western District Fire Co. (also known as Old Zionsville Fire Department Station 19) and the Citizen’s Fire Co. (also known as Vera Cruz Fire Co.) sat on opposite sides of the table Monday night, as they both voiced difficulties about raising funds amid growing costs.

The two stations are fully volunteer run.

“Firefighters will risk their lives to help us,” said Joyce Moore, chair of the township’s board of supervisors. “And then they come back to the fire hall…to do all the fundraising. They make pancake breakfasts.”

Of all the many needs between both companies, one tanker alone that the Western District Fire Co. is looking to purchase costs $1.4 million. That’s without any equipment on it.

“It’s not just fire trucks. It’s air packs, bunker gear, insurance, workman’s comp,” said George DeVault, a retired firefighter. “And having pancake breakfasts, white elephant sales, raffles — it just doesn’t cut it anymore.”

DeVault was once fire chief of the Citizen’s Fire Co.

“But don’t hold it against me, please,” he said with a laugh. Now DeVault is retired, but he still helps to raise funds for the Western District Fire Co.

“Times change. We have to change with them — the cost of everything is going through the roof,” he said. “So we need help, some new ideas.”

“We always fund both fire companies equally,” Moore said. “Would you give $100 to one son, and $50 to another son? No, we don’t do that.”

To address the issue, Vice President John Zgura has offered two proposals at previous meetings. One involves instituting a fire company tax on residents. A second involves creating one fire company with two stations.

“Our taxes are so low that an increase like that is going to be several hundred percent,” Supervisor Daniel J. Mohr said of a possible fire company tax. “That’s the hard part. We’re going to have to try and educate the public that this is something we really need to do.” “

That has been tossed around,” Moore said of the idea to combine stations. “I don’t know that it’s necessarily going to be a cost savings.”

Monday night’s meeting featured representatives from both companies, along with representatives from emergency management services and members of the public. The meeting began with skyrocketing costs the fire departments are facing. Regulations, product shortages, shipping costs and inflation have all conspired to increase the capital equipment budget.

If the township were to fund the departments Zgura questioned what guarantees the township would have.

“What happens if Cruz goes belly up?” Zgura asked. “I want you guys to stay volunteer. I want to give you the money you need.”

The fire departments noted the vehicles could be owned by the township.

The consensus during the meeting was most officials and residents would like to see the departments remain volunteer. Given this, it would be incumbent on the township to develop a funding plan. Further, any tax could spur less donations.

A maximum fire tax would register at 3 mills. Upper Milford’s real estate tax is now at .45 mills which generates $380,000 annually. The average township tax assessment is $213,000, which produces an average tax of about $104.

Moving forward, township supervisors requested the fire departments develop five-year and 10-year plans focusing on capital equipment within the next month. Then the township will schedule another meeting based off those budgets.

Regardless of what the future holds, Moore said she was most appreciative of the community’s volunteer firefighters who sometimes literally run into burning buildings for nothing.

“You risk your lives to protect ours,” Moore said.


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