While East Carbon City and Sunnyside City may be separated by only one mile, they share many things including ambulance and police service in the area. But one question remains on the minds of some living in the area: why the need for each city to have their own fire department?
The topic was brought up during the Sunnyside City Council meeting on Tuesday night when Sunnyside City Mayor Doug Parsons discussed reasons for the Community Impact Board denying the city funding with a full grant for a new fire truck. Parsons told the council he was informed that one of the main reasons for the CIB turning down their funding request was due to the two cities having separate fire departments, instead of having one fire department for the area. The CIB has in the past recommended that both cities work on combining departments.
"There are benefits to having both fire departments join together," said Parsons. One main reason for merging the fire departments into one would help provide a better chance of receiving funding from the CIB, he said.
Parsons and the council were in agreement that the city should look into the topic of combining the departments and are in the process of drafting a formal letter to East Carbon City to possibly open discussion about it.
Councilman Kelly Maynes said the Sunnyside and East Carbon City fire departments both respond to emergency calls whenever they come in. Maynes questioned why the cities would each need one fire department when comparing it to other services provided in the area.
"We have one police department and one ambulance service in the area. Why not have just one fire department?" Maynes questioned.
Parsons and the council were in agreement that the city should look into the topic of combining both departments and are in the process of drafting a formal letter to East Carbon City to possibly open discussion about it.
Both Sunnyside and East Carbon have worked with the CIB on getting new equipment and vehicles, including new fire trucks. But because each city has their own department, they both send requests to the CIB for funding specifically catered to their own city, which can create problems for both cities.
"If we go after a new fire truck, they (East Carbon City) do it as well," which can cause problems, according to Gene Madrid, Sunnyside City fire chief.
"There are benefits to having both of the departments join together," Madrid said including such reasons as having a greater chance of receiving funding from the CIB when submitting requests, lowering the overall cost of providing a service, sharing equipment, vehicle and other associated costs.
While there may be many positives to the proposed idea, there would be some difficult work ahead, Madrid said. Every piece of equipment would need to be inventoried, the pay structure would need to be overhauled and scheduling for shifts would be just some of the questions that would need to be answered.
Madrid said the two cities last discussed the idea at length when the talking concerning funding on the Joint Public Safety Building started in 2007. Both of the city councils looked into the idea of merging the departments but the idea ultimately fell through. Madrid said he was unsure of exactly what the reasons were for the idea never coming to pass.
"We never heard of any reasons from East Carbon about why it fell through," he stated.
The JPSB, which opened in 2009, cost about $1.9 million to build, with the original cost rising by $300,000 due to inflation that caused materials to build the structure to rise. When the project was approved by the CIB, it came with a 30-year loan with zero percent interest and a two-year payment deferment. The $300,000 was to be evenly divided up between both cities.
To help both of the cities pay for the loan, Carbon County provides each entity with $5,000 a year.
"We went through a long drawn out process to get grants for the Joint Public Safety Building," said Parsons of the two cities' quest to bring a building to the area.
Bringing all of the fire trucks from East Carbon City over to the JPSB was a topic of debate among the East Carbon City council four years ago. At the time, Orlando LaFontaine, East Carbon City mayor, said the CIB nearly canceled the funding for the JPSB project when it was made clear that members on the council wanted to keep a fire truck in the town, instead of parking it at the building, which they had promised to do for the fire department.
"I think it should be done," LaFontaine said citing one positive that the change should help lower costs to both cities.
LaFontaine also said the cities could look into the possibility of creating a fire or safety district within the area. A board would be created for the fire fighters to work on things such as getting funding for new fire trucks, equipment, training and much more, he explained.
Combining both fire departments could also help ensure that fire fighters on the crews have more opportunities for training and working on their certifications with the abundance of volunteers on the crew, LaFontaine said.
"Having just one fire department would help bring things closer together too," said LaFontaine.
If the two departments merged and became one, there would be over 20 fire fighters on the crew, Madrid said when adding the crews of both cities together.
LaFontaine said he is looking into having the topic be placed on the agenda for the next East Carbon City council meeting on Aug. 9.
While the cities and their respective fire departments may have differing opinions on the matter, LaFontaine said everyone involved should focus on the issue of safety and how this idea may help everyone living in the area.
"If the people involved from both cities really cared about their towns, this should be done," he said.