Lehigh Valley

Upper Macungie redefines its relationship with volunteer firefighters

UPPER MACUNGIE TWP, Pa. - Upper Macungie Township supervisors Thursday night unanimously adopted an ordinance that distances the township from its volunteer firefighters and seeks to prevent the kind of legal fight that’s under way in Emmaus.

The new ordinance, completely replacing one approved in 2009, establishes minimum standards for personnel to operate the township’s three volunteer fire companies and relinquishes control of hiring, firing and discipline of firefighters.

“We’re not supposed to have a lot of control over separate nonprofit entities,” said township solicitor David Schantz who noted that the ordinance was drafted over the last 45 days with input from the township and representatives of Fogelsville Volunteer Fire Co. Station 8, the Goodwill Volunteer Fire Company Station 25 and the Upper Macungie Township Volunteer Fire Co. Station 56.

He said the ordinance is aimed at preventing a legal fight similar to what’s taking place in Emmaus in which a Commonwealth Court has upheld an order by the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board that authorized the borough’s firefighters to unionize and negotiate contracts.

Commonwealth Court, he said, found that Emmaus had a certain level of control over its volunteer firefighters and essentially treated them as borough employees.

“I’m cautioning the township to loosen the reins and not have so much control,” Schantz said. If the same level of control were to be maintained, Upper Macungie could find itself in the same situation as Emmaus, he added.

Board Chairman James Brunell read from the May issue of Township Supervisor magazine, which cited the Emmaus situation and advised townships to evaluate their relationships with their volunteer fire companies.

“It’s not an Upper Macungie issue, it’s a state issue,” he said.

Fire Commissioner Grant Grim said the amount of money being spent on the legal fight in Emmaus “is just crazy,” and the ordinance will prevent that in Upper Macungie without affecting firefighting services.

But there was discontentment among the room full of volunteer firefighters from all three companies.

“We’re watering down our standards,” said Joe Corcoran, president of Upper Macungie Township Volunteer Fire Co. Station 56. “We’re going to get a lower standard of service.”

Chief Bill Gillespie of Goodwill Volunteer Fire Company Station 25 said he worried that the ordinance would hinder the ability of the fire companies to obtain grants. “We cannot endorse this ordinance as written,” he said.

The ordinance treats all three fire companies as separate, distinct and competent entities and establishes new minimum standards by which they and their respective officers and personnel are expected to comply.

Those standards include assigning the township’s emergency management coordinator/director of bureau of fire as liaison between the fire companies and the board of supervisors and requiring the fire companies to provide trained officers, operators, firefighters and fire police for fire prevention and protection, education, traffic control and investigations.

The ordinance also requires the establishment of district boundary lines between the fire companies as they relate to responding to fire and emergency calls. The fire chiefs or their designated representatives will collaborate on determining the call box assignments. Should the fire companies be unable to agree on the establishment of district boundaries, then the district boundaries will be established by the township.

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