Updated: Boyertown's recent fire company merger seeks to offset decline of volunteers

David Shainline, Chief of Boyertown Area Fire & Rescue

Improved firefighting services, greater operational efficiencies and savings in tax dollars are among the benefits that residents are expected to realize through the recent merger of the three Boyertown area fire companies.

As of July 1, the three companies – Friendship Hook & Ladder and Keystone Steam Fire Co. of Boyertown, Liberty Fire Co. of New Berlinville – are now known as Boyertown Area Fire & Rescue.

The merger of fire companies is the latest in a series of tactics taken in recent years by volunteer fire companies to offset the ongoing decline in volunteers. Similar mergers were effected in Royersford in 2011 and Upper Providence Township in 2012.

“Merging is the way to go now in the fire service if you want to keep the fire company in the community and still keep all your volunteers,” said David E. Shainline, Jr., chief of the merged company, who is also fire marshal for Colebrookdale Township.

“Prior to the merger, we had meetings with company members, residents, public officials and other fire companies in Berks and neighboring counties which have gone the merger route.”

One of the most important benefits of the merger is an improvement in firefighting efficiency. Instead of three separate pools of volunteers, said the chief, “we now have one combined pool which means that when we have a daytime emergency, we now can get six volunteers to respond per truck; previously, we only had two per truck.”

An immediate advantage of the consolidations is a cost savings on equipment and plant operations, added Shainline. The merged department has reduced the number of vehicles from 19 to 13 and divided the apparatus between the Friendship and Liberty stations; this alone results in a savings on fuel, maintenance and insurance.

Additional efficiencies will be realized, said Shainline, because instead of three sets of fire chiefs and line officers, “we have one chief and one group of line officers.

“Not every volunteer has transferred over to our new, improved fire service,” Shainline noted. “We kept 95%, which is great. I just wish that the remaining 5% would have come over and given us a try. Maybe they would have liked it and stayed.”

The merged company, whose volunteer membership now numbers 100, is expected to respond to 500 calls annually from 20,000 residents in a 20 square mile service area consisting of consisting of Boyertown Borough, Colebrookdale Township and half of the northern part of Douglas Township.