Cost, staffing issues cited as Franklintown leaves new York County regional fire company

Matt Enright
York Dispatch
Northern York County Fire Rescue, 109 S. Baltimore St. in Dillsburg, Monday, July 5, 2021. Bill Kalina photo

Franklintown is leaving Northern York County Fire Rescue, saying the newly formed regional department wanted too much money and wasn’t answering calls at certain times of day.

Wellsville Fire Co., a volunteer organization located approximately 6 miles from the borough, has been responding to fire calls in Franklintown since July 1.

Franklintown Community Fire Co. and Citizens’ Hose Co. of Dillsburg merged in 2018 to form Northern York County Fire Rescue. The department provides service for Franklin Township, Carroll Township, parts of Washington Township, and Dillsburg. 

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Among the reasons the borough decided to find a new provider was the cost, according to Kelly Kunkle, Franklintown’s borough secretary and treasurer.

Northern York County Fire Rescue had asked for $15,000 to $20,000 per year, she said, noting Franklintown has a population of just under 500 and averages a dozen fire calls a year.

Also, the borough had learned that the department’s fire rescue wasn't answering calls at certain times of day because they couldn't staff a truck, Kunkle said. 

Northern York County Fire Rescue Director Mark Snyder acknowledged the issue.

"Everybody has that problem, no matter where you're from," he said. "The amount of volunteers coming out is dwindling every day. There are times during the day, in the evening and at night that we have a hard time, just like anybody else, staffing a truck. But we do our very best to do it." 

If the department can't respond, that's when mutual aid comes into play, according to Snyder. In that case, fire companies from surrounding communities help, even if that's  only two or three firefighters to a truck.

However, Kunkle said, Wellsville Fire Co. is able to provide more stability, at a cost of $8,000 per year. 

Snyder said Franklintown had been contributing $3,000 per year to the regional department, which had suggested an increase to approximately $10,000. Proposed funding is based on the number of calls in a municipality and its population.

Compared with other municipalities' contracts, Franklintown's suggested contract was small, Snyder said. Franklin Township, for example, pays $45,000 per year while Dillsburg pays $75,000.

Another point of contention was the municipalities’ desire for an audit. Snyder said the department was in favor of an audit, but it wanted the municipalities to pay for it. 

In a news release last week, Northern York County Fire Rescue acknowledged the split.

"The officers and members of Northern York County Fire Rescue, and its legacy fire companies, wish to convey to the Franklintown community our heartfelt appreciation for your enduring support during our eight decades of service to you," the statement reads. "It disheartens us that Franklintown Borough Council has decided to end its relationship with the fire company."

The department stated it was in the process of negotiations with other area municipalities.

"We still believe this kind of forward-thinking and cooperation is crucial for the welfare of our growing region. No public safety system can endure without the broad support of the communities it serves.”

Kunkle said there are no hard feelings. 

"The actual volunteer firefighters that answer calls, we don't have a problem with them,” she said. “But it's basically those who are in management at the company; there was just no wiggle room." 

At the end of the day, Snyder said, it's about protecting people. If Northern York County Fire Rescue gets a call in Franklintown, the firefighters will go.

"It's not about anybody but the residents," he said.

But he had harsh words for those who might value finances over people.

"When you go with a fire department that's 7 miles away when you have one right in your town, I defy anybody to tell me that's a great idea," he said. "And if you're going to put a dollar amount on the residents, and their property, and their lives, that's pretty sad." 

Wellsville Fire Co. did not respond to multiple calls for comment.