SUMMIT, NJ – The fire departments of Millburn and Summit formally announced on Monday that they had commissioned an analysis to explore the feasibility of sharing fire department services.
At a presentation at the Lawton C. Johnson middle school, Summit Fire Chief Joseph Houck and Millburn fire chief Michael Roberts revealed that the feasibility study had been in process for almost a year.
“We wanted to take a proactive approach toward looking at something like this,” Roberts said. “We didn't have to be forced to find some quick savings. We wanted this to be an ideal model to any community that wants to do this.”
Attended by the mayors and council members from both towns, Monday night’s presentation was conducted by Emergency Services Consulting International (ESCI), which began its analysis in August 2010. The cost of the project for the two towns was $48,870, a cost shared by both fire departments.
ESCI’s Senior Vice President Phil Kouwe said the analysis, contained in a 109-page document, was conducted with two key factors in mind: ways in which the departments could provide similar services for less money and ways to provide better services for the same money.
In the presentation, Kouwe said there are four types of partnering strategies that were considered: autonomy with increased mutual/auto aid, where a fire department requests aid of another at the scene, functional consolidation, where a specific function in a fire department becomes a shared resource, operational consolidation, where both fire departments are run as a single unit, and full merger, where an entirely new fire department is established.
Millburn and Summit appear to be looking at operational consolidation. With that in mind, since the study found that the two fire departments “consistently provide excellent service to the citizens of the protected communities,” the study recommended 20 “functional cooperative strategies” that would enhance the working relationship between the two towns.
Some of those recommendations included, develop and adopt common training standards, develop a joint fire training facility and develop a joint fire safety education coalition.
“It’s a process.” Kouwe said. “We have only done the examination of feasibility. You have to ask ‘would it work?’, ‘could it work?’ and look at the cost advantage. The decision right now is whether to move forward with the process.”
A next step in the process would be for the communities to set up a joint implementation committee and then subcommittees expressly dedicated to shared service delivery between the two departments.
Summit councilman Michael Vernotico said: “I worry that there will be more consolidation from the state. I look forward to us moving forward together.”
Chief Houck said he anticipated that it would run smoothly.
“The relationship that the towns have is envied around the state.” Houck said. “We have been talking about shared services long before it was fashionable. Some of the things in the study are just an expansion of what we are already doing.”
Kouwe said that for most of his firm’s fire department clients, implementation of shared services is a one-to-four year process. “For Millburn and Summit, you are looking at the end of 2012 at least,” for implementation of a joint fire department, he said.