Making tough decisions

McCLURE – Many fire stations and departments across the country have seen memberships dwindle and felt the economy recession over the years, locally the Decatur Fire Company has being feeling these effects since late 2012.

Company Chief Mark Wolfgang said the department has had to overcome many hardships since August 2012.

“Over the past few years we have had to make a lot of changes within our department,” Wolfgang said. “One of which is that we are going to have to get rid of our quick response service.”

Quick response service is an operation where an emergency medical service provider responds to an actual, reported or perceived emergency and provides emergency medical services to patients pending the arrival of an ambulance. Wolfgang said with only having three certified emergency medical technicians, it will be hard to keep up with the new regulations.

“One of the new regulations that was just approved was that anyone with this service will have to have someone stationed and on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he explained. “With everyone being a volunteer with families and full-time jobs, that is just something we cannot do any more.”

Wolfgang said this decision was not made lightly as the company has always provided this type of service. The station always offered the service to Decatur Township residents because there was no “close” ambulance service to all residents, with the nearest EMS company being in Lewistown.

“When this service is suspended on Sept. 20, we will continue to assist Fame in every way we can,” Wolfgang said. “This could come as an AED call or at the scene of an accident. We will just not act as primary responders.”

Wolfgang said this is just one of the many sacrifices the company has had to make since discovering some out-of-control habits nearly two years ago.

“One of our biggest problems back then was out-of-control spending,” he said. “If nothing was to change the company was going to have to file for bankruptcy in November of 2012.”

One of the out-of-control spending habits, Wolfgang said, was the payments on a few pieces of equipment that were going to last longer than the life of the equipment.

“We had three loans that were at about 2 percent, and then we had a balloon payment on top of that,” Wolfgang explained. “We have reduced that to having a one 2 percent loan and reduced the balloon payment by $50,000.”

Wolfgang said the company called this plan “Operation Fire Storm.” The goal of the plan, which is still being used, is to achieve financial stability again. Reducing the amount of debt was the first step, and to do that Wolfgang said two pieces of equipment were sold.

“One piece that we sold was our heavy rescue truck, which was hardly being used but costing us about $180,000 to have,” he said. “We also got rid of our brush truck.”

Wolfgang said that by getting rid of those two vehicles the company was able to reduce its vehicle payments by about $50,000. He also said there are still payments due for essential equipment still owned by the company. Throughout these changes the company saw membership dwindle to a low of seven active firefighters, but Wolfgang said things are starting to change for the better.

“We are now at about 21 active firefighters,” he said. “Many of these guys have worked hard to get to where we are now, and there is still a lot of work that still needs to be done.”

Wolfgang said part of “Operation Fire Storm” has been to build a new, fresh image with the help of the new squad truck.

“This truck has the slogan of the fifth element,” he explained. “In ancient Greek times, the fifth element was referred to as love and passion, which is what these dedicated members have.”

The truck is going to help with assisting Fame on medical calls and in the future will service as a small truck to take to other calls the company may get. Wolfgang said the truck also sports a new company logo which will be applied to all of the company’s vehicles.

“Everything we have done since 2012 is to be better than we were before,” he said. “There is not one guy here who has not given more than his credit to help. Whether that has been working fundraisers or helping around the station. All of them deserve credit.”

Wolfgang also said along with the work around the station, company members have put in about 32 hours of training time for the month of July. These trainings have happened both at the state fire academy located in Lewistown and around the township.

Many members have said that without the leadership of Wolfgang, the company would not have made it from where it was in 2012 to where it currently is. Wolfgang said he attributes most of his success to that of the people working with him.

“It is easy to be a leader when everyone around you is dedicated,” Wolfgang said.

Wolfgang said there is still a lot of ground to cover to be completely financially stable, but members are thinking of new and exciting ways to bring money into the station through different fundraisers.

“My goal is to do our best to continue to provide the best service for the residents of Decatur Township, whatever that may entail from us,” Wolfgang said.