Rush Township fire companies urged to unite for best coverage
The window may be closing, but there’s still time for a pair of fire companies in Rush Township to merge.
About 50 people — among them residents and firefighters — attended a public meeting to discuss fire protection in Rush Township on Tuesday at the Hometown Fire Company in Hometown.
The meeting was to review changes in fire protection to the township, and to discuss the facts about the changes.
Last month, township supervisors agreed to provide township firefighting funding only to the Hometown Volunteer Fire Company. That action cut all township funding to the Quakake Volunteer Fire Company.
Additionally, supervisors agreed to remove the Quakake Volunteer Fire Company from being called out for emergencies through the Schuylkill County 911 communications system.
Barry Messerschmidt, fire chief and president of Hometown Fire Company, said Tuesday the intention was to keep Quakake’s fire equipment and fire station open under the Hometown Fire Company.
Messerschmidt noted there’s no fire company in Quakake. The fire house is still there, he said, but it’s inactive because it’s been decertified.
If the fire companies would merge, Hometown Fire Company would still be entitled to a minimum of $10,000 a year, or $100,000 over the next 10 years, through state funding. In the event no merger occurs, Hometown would lose its state funding.
“We wanted this to work,” Messerschmidt said.
George Gerhard, treasurer of Hometown Fire Company, said the fire company held Tuesday’s meeting because it wanted “to dispel all the rumors.”
“It wasn’t Hometown,” Gerhard said. “We’re trying to make this work.”
However, Messerschmidt said Hometown Fire Company isn’t about to let the issue drag on.
Rush Township Supervisor Robert Leibensperger expressed his frustration with “the inaction” of the officers of the Quakake Fire Company for not doing their job to protect the people of Quakake and Rush Township.
Joseph St-Onge of Barnesville said it was imperative for the two fire departments to work together for the good of the township.
“Do what’s best for the township,” St-Onge said. “Please reunite.”
Joan Houser of Hometown echoed that sentiment.
“When you’re a team and work as one, you all succeed,” Houser said.
Gerhard said that while he agrees, “If we can’t get them to do anything, our hands are tied.”
Only about a handful of active members from the Quakake Fire Company attended the meeting.
Messerschmidt assured that regardless of the outcome, the residents of Rush Township will continue to receive fire protection.
“Our manpower is getting less. It’s not getting any easier,” he said. “We as a fire company are not going to let this keep prolonging.”
Messerschmidt said the situation could still work, but there’s been no initiative taken by Quakake.
Frank Zangari, president of the Schuylkill County Fire Chiefs Association, said that it is “asinine” of Quakake for failing to respond to the Hometown Fire Company.
Zangari said consolidation is the way to go, adding, “It’s a win-win for the township.”
He said that in 1972, there were 300,000 volunteer firefighters throughout the state. At present, he said there are under 50,000.
“Quakake needs to step up to the table and at least start talking,” Zangari said.
Messerschmidt reiterated Hometown Fire Company’s stance.
“We’re not the bad guy here,” he said. “We want to keep it open.”
It was agreed that Hometown Fire Company would send a letter of intent to the Quakake Fire Company asking them to make their decision.
From that point, Quakake would have a week to respond, and if it agrees to merge, a meeting would likely take place between both fire departments within two weeks.
The idea of a consolidation between the Hometown and Quakake fire companies was proposed by supervisors at a special meeting Sept. 18 between the supervisors and fire company officials. A second special township meeting was conducted Oct. 16.
Nearby, members of the Brockton Fire Company and Mary D Volunteer Fire Company in Schuylkill Township are also considering combining operations.