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Paxtang Borough outsources fire services, after months of deliberation and disagreement

The move was driven by a lack of volunteers at the Paxtang Fire Department, a volunteer fire company, according to Borough Manager Keldeen Stambaugh.

PAXTANG, Pa. — Paxtang Borough is outsourcing its fire services to Swatara Township beginning on Aug. 1. 

The decision follows 18 months of deliberation and disagreement.

The move was driven by a lack of volunteers at the Paxtang Fire Department, a volunteer fire company, according to Borough Manager Keldeen Stambaugh.

Like many fire departments across the nation, Paxtang has struggled to recruit volunteer firefighters. The department now has six active firefighters, according to Captain Matthew Lemmon. 

However, he said, that number is more than enough to cover the borough, which has less than half a square mile area. In fact, most of the 350 calls the departments responds to each year come from outside the borough, according to Lemmon.

The borough was considering bids from both Swatara Township and Harrisburg City for fire service coverage. Both bids were for $25,000 annually, but Harrisburg’s offer would extend through 2024 and Swatara’s offer will extend through 2028. 

In addition, borough officials noted Harrisburg had previously offered three free years of service, but that offer was rescinded after a new mayor came into office this year.

Some were unhappy with the Swatara decision. Paxtang resident Rebecca Frankenfield, who is listed as an executive officer of Paxtang Fire, organized an online petition calling for the borough to choose Harrisburg’s fire services. The petition garnered 120 signatures out of the borough’s population of 1,650.

The Paxtang Fire Department also expressed disappointment.

“We prefer Harrisburg because we had communications with them as a company as to how we were going to be essentially onboarded and allowed to continue to operate our station,” Lemmon said.

Lemmon is concerned that communications with Swatara Township, meanwhile, are already off to a bad start. He said the township excludes his fire company from calls for service, posting on Facebook his frustration that Paxtang wasn’t called to a brush fire on Wednesday just blocks from their station.

“Our resources are not called for regardless of what proximity we’re in,” Lemmon said.

Borough Manager Stambaugh said the borough had a good working relationship with Swatara Township, since they already contract their police services, and that the borough’s Public Safety Committee recommended going with Swatara’s bid.

It’s unclear what will happen to Paxtang’s current firefighters and equipment.

Swatara Township did not respond to a request for comment, but they posted on Facebook that they “look forward to adding members of the Paxtang Fire Company.”

Lemmon said because of low morale among his firefighters, it’s unlikely any will sign up for Swatara’s fire department.

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