Friends, Neighbors and Fellow Upper Merion Area Residents:
For many years Upper Merion Township’s fire protection services have been provided by the King of Prussia, Swedeland and Swedesburg Volunteer Fire Companies. Similarly, for decades Lafayette Ambulance and Rescue Squad has provided basic and advanced life support services to Upper Merion. These organizations and their members have preserved and protected the community while saving millions of tax dollars. In 2016 a Fire and Rescue Study was undertaken in order to look at the present and future status of our rescue services and the results are leading to some significant changes.
Perhaps the biggest difference in our public safety profile has been the recent hiring of six full-time firefighters who will work with our volunteers. The training the new hires are undergoing was recently documented in an NBC-10 story which you can access by clicking this sentence. The hiring of full-time firefighters isn’t an insignificant expense but it’s not feasible to expect volunteers to serve during the daytime hours. They have careers and other obligations. Fortunately much of the cost for the first few years will be offset by a $1 million grant through the Department of Homeland Security’s Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) Program. Besides fighting fires, our firefighters will be performing rental inspections in Upper Merion which is related to their main function as firefighters as that’s risk mitigation. This will also offset some of the costs of these new hires.
A second change will occur in the next few months as Lafayette Ambulance and Rescue Squad is transitioning from a private organization to a township operated service. This decision was supported by Lafayette’s Board of Directors. Bringing Lafayette in-house will also result in enhanced service delivery as it will allow the township to better plan and coordinate all emergency services. This has obvious public health benefits and it may provide a financial benefit as well.
For any public service to maximize effectiveness it must evolve with the times. When it comes to public safety this means investing in personnel and apparatus but it also means establishing outreach programs and adapting to technology. The Upper Merion Police Department has doubled-down on community outreach through our Community Oriented Policing (COP) unit, participation in National Night Out, cop camp, the establishment of the Chaplain Program, involvement in Race for Peace and more. Use of new technology will be evident in the near future as the township is funding body cameras for active duty police officers in the 2019 Budget.
The hiring of full-time firefighters and bringing Lafayette in house has necessitated some changes in the leadership of our public safety portfolio. A few months ago Upper Merion hired Dennis Rubin to serve as our Fire and EMS Chief. Chief Rubin has a substantial amount of experience having served in this capacity in major metropolitan areas including Atlanta and Washington DC. Additionally, our Police Chief Tom Nolan now also holds the title of Public Safety Director and he will oversee all of our public safety services.
A few years ago a volunteer firefighter asked me if the Board of Supervisors was funding the Fire and Rescue Services Study just for show, or were we willing to follow some of the recommendations? The answer to that question is evidenced by the current transformation. Yes these changes might be dramatic but they’re also vital as a sound public safety profile is essential for the health, safety and welfare of our community both today and in the years to come.