Hampton continues to investigate VFD merger

Monday, October 7, 2019 | 12:01 AM

A merger of both of the volunteer fire departments in Hampton is looking like a reality, but it will take some time, say committee members working on the task.

Hampton is serviced by both the North Hampton Fire Department and Hampton VFD 1, which are currently two separate organizations.

Chief John Schwend of the North Hampton VFD said discussions of a merger have been going on for almost two years.

“I’m happy to say that both fire departments voted to move forward with the process,” said Chief Schwend. “We are a long way from seeing one fire department in the township, though.”

Chief for Hampton VFD 1 is Brian Hilliard.

Schwend said they took a first vote to move forward with merging the departments in September, though it’s not entirely official or yet final. He said that would happen after the study and conversations, to see if both departments were still committed to moving forward.

A volunteer fire department merger committee, comprised of three members from North Hampton VFD, three members from Hampton VFD and township manager Christopher Lochner, have been meeting quarterly to investigate the process, said Schwend, who’s been chief there for 11 years.

Almost two years ago, the merger committee began looking into the feasibility of merging the two departments. This included hiring Dr. Tim McGrath from McGrath Consulting in order to perform a study that included the current strengths and weaknesses of the two fire departments as well as assess the needs for the township’s fire protection in the future, said Schwend..

The study provided an idea of how a fire department consolidation would work and gave the township’s leaders an idea of what we will need in the future.

After the study was completed, they held a joint meeting with all of the members of both fire departments and a panel of three fire chiefs from local fire departments who have recently merged, said Schwend. This included Dave Moore from Reserve Township VFD, Bill Hayes from the Adams Area Fire District, and Scott Garing from Harmony Fire District, said Schwend.

The panel of chiefs told us about their processes, and allowed us to ask many questions about what went well and what was a challenge.

“It was really a beneficial meeting that helped all of the members understand how a merged fire department might look,” said Schwend.

After this meeting, each fire department took a vote to decide if we should continue the process leading towards a merged department.

Once they are ready for a final decision in the future, if they still decide to merge, it would be followed by official actions to individually cease operations and establish a new organization, he said.

Between the two departments they have an estimated 40 active volunteers. He said that number may sound like a lot. However, depending on the time of day and availability of volunteers, only two to five people may respond to a call. Or sometimes it could be 15 to 25.

Though it’s hard to say what the number “should be,” they would like to see between 10 to 15 firefighters come at all times, said Schwend.

Like VFDs nationally, the fire departments are having trouble with volunteers, especially during daylight hours when everyone is working, said Lochner.

“They recognized manpower issue continued to be a problem,” he said

Now the committee has been tasked with proposing a structure of the organization with bylaws and standard operating procedures that will be acceptable to all members.

Schwend said the “important take away” is that in a time where volunteers are scarce during certain times of the day, and in an effort to maximize the use of resources, both the North Hampton and Hampton fire departments, and the township leadership, are working together to modernize the delivery model of fire service protection for the residents of the township, and that safety and quality service delivery are the top priority.