Avondale Fire Company supporters press London Grove supervisors on one-source provider decision12/08/2020 10:58AM ● By Steven Hoffman
Supporters and members of the Avondale Fire Company spoke up at the Dec. 2 London Grove Township Board of Supervisors meeting, some of them asking questions about and voicing their frustration with the Nov. 17 decision by the board to contract with West Grove Fire Company as its ambulance and fire provider.
Spokespersons at the meeting took advantage of the public comment period to delve into the reasons for the change.
The decision was made, according to minutes of the Nov. 17 budget meeting, as a cost-cutting measure which would save about $75,000. According to the document, the recommendation was made by Fire Marshal Robert Weer. At that meeting, the supervisors approved the motion with the dissent of supervisor Steve Zurl.
At the onset of the Dec. 2 meeting, former Avondale Fire Chief and current West Grove Fire Company member Glenn Hallman spoke up with a list of questions for the supervisors. He said he was representing neither the Avondale or West Grove fire company, but rather was seeking information about the decision moving to one provider.
He asked if the decision to exclude Avondale was the best one for taxpayers who live close to the Avondale station.
“Is it best for families if they live closer to Avondale? Can you defend [the decision] if you have to wait?” he asked. He also asked if the supervisors could defend the possible increased response time and referred to the West Grove’s more distant New London station, which would respond even if the emergency were much closer geographically to the Avondale station
Additionally, he asked if the supervisors realized if a result of their decision to contract with one provider resulted in litigation, that each of them would be responsible and the financial costs would be a burden to London Grove taxpayers.
London Grove resident Zach Knox said he was concerned that even the most minute delay in response time caused by single source could be devastating do people whose family members are in life-threatening situations or whose houses are burning down.
He added that the issue had not been widely publicized and needed more public input.
Reminding his audience that there would be more times for debate later in the meeting, David Connors, the chairman of the board of supervisors, said the board had been discussing the matter since July. Addressing the safety issue, he said West Grove has proposed placing an ambulance in Avondale and having a roving unit.
He reiterated that he and the supervisors would not make a change to one provider for cost alone, and they would not have made the decision if they thought it would jeopardize their citizens.
During the public comment time at the end of meeting, after the decision to adopt the single source provider had been made Avondale Fire Company deputy Chief Shawn Carroll spoke at length to defend his company’s qualifications.
He pressed Connors on the reasons for dropping Avondale Fire Company. He also asked why the township’s Emergency Services Committee had not been part of the decision.
Both Connors and board member Lee Irwin told Carroll that they had concerns about communication with Avondale. Irwin said it bothered him that the Avondale audit revealed that failure to have three people sign each check that went out could imply “fraud or error.”
London Grove Township Board of Supervisorsr member Christina Fanning said she was “uncomfortable” that she was not getting the information that her board had asked for from the Avondale Fire Company.
Carroll responded that the detailed reports in the fire company’s audit were there to present the leaders with ways they could improve service not to denigrate their performance. He said that the Avondale Fire Company is diligent in responding to information requests, but that the COVID-19 pandemic had put them “in a bubble.”
Toward the end of the discussion, Connors returned to the financial aspect of the issue.
“It was time for a tough discussion. Like any community that shares services, we’re paying more than we would if we had one source,” he said, adding, “We can’t wave a magic wand and ask you two to merge.”
In other business, the supervisors agreed to move the meeting dates to the second Wednesday of each month, rather than the first Wednesday of the month, starting in 2021. They agreed it would give staff and board members more time to get documents and other information together for meeting presentations and action.