Lutz stressed that it is important for departments to keep their identity while also working together in a more collaborative fashion.
“I don’t think there’s a need to necessarily consolidate the districts into one district, at least in the short term,” said Lutz.
The hope is that the results will give departments a framework to use as they plan for the next 10 years and try to reduce costs.
Over that time, the town is expected to see tremendous growth with a number of development projects moving forward, such as the Vista Technology Park and the mixed-use Wemple Corners project, to name a few. While fire coverage issues are taken into consideration during development talks, the report does indicate that existing district boundaries “bear little relation to modern development patterns, and in some cases inhibit management and delivery of fire services.”
Right now, departments consistently provide mutual aid in many areas of the town, such as at the Price Chopper Plaza on Route 85 in Slingerlands. As they continue to collaborate, Lutz said it is important for everyone to be on the same page.
“For example, if a firefighter from Selkirk ends up having to help out on a crew from Elsmere, that firefighter should know where Elsmere’s tools are on each one of its pieces of equipment,” said Lutz.
The report also takes non-residents into consideration. Lutz said it is important to remember that thousands of people are moving through the town every hour, including on the Thruway.
“Our ability to be responsive to their needs is something that we have to continue to grow and prepare for,” said Lutz.
Finding enough firefighters is a problem plaguing many departments across the nation, as many volunteers are struggling to find the time between work and family to serve with local departments. One issue raised in the report is that many of the volunteer firefighters in Bethlehem are town employees. A recommendation in the report is for a better utilization of those employees, as well as all volunteers, with consideration given to their full-time jobs.
Manitou, Inc., a Peekskill-based firm, conducted the study at a cost of more than $54,000, which was split between the fire districts.
The full report can be found online at www.townofbethlehem.org and at www.elsmerefire.com. A public presentation of the findings will be given Nov. 30 at 6p.m. at the Bethlehem Central High School auditorium.