Northampton Fire Chief Keith Knoblach and the fire department’s assistant chiefs presented their capital improvement plan before the Northampton Borough Council on Wednesday, October 17.
This plan proposes a one mil fire tax that would generate an extra $200,000 for the fire department. This money could help replace fire apparatuses, maintain the fire department headquarters, and help the fire department keep up with changing technology.
Having just purchased a new Pierce pumper this year, and with several fire apparatuses in need of replacement within the coming decade or so, Chief Knoblach said the fire tax will help the fire department keep up. Apparatus costs, he said, increase “roughly 6 percent each year” and fire engines are required to be replaced every 20 years.
“There is no such thing as a 30-year fire truck anymore,” he said.
“Planned obsolescence” means fire trucks are only being built to last 20 years. When the next apparatus must be replaced in 2024, the Borough will only be finished with seven of 15 years’ worth of payments on the new Pierce pumper. Chief Knoblach calls this a “vicious cycle.”
In addition to replacing old vehicles, the fire department is also looking at its future needs, which include a UTV for fire and rescue operations on the area’s many rail trails, a second command vehicle, and a utility truck for public assistance situations.
In addition to the fire apparatuses, the fire department headquarters could also benefit from upgrades, including improved security, new energy-efficient windows and doors, sleeping quarters for firefighters, and a room for fire gear, which is currently being exposed to cancer-causing carcinogens, the leading cause of death for firefighters.
Chief Knoblach proposed an oversight committee that would verify the financial feasibility of the projects and act as a system of checks and balances. The committee would be composed of three Borough representatives, the fire chief, deputy fire chief, assistant fire chief, and member-at-large from an organization such as a bank or emergency squad.
Chief Knoblach hopes that such a plan would give the borough and its residents peace of mind.
“[They can] rest assured that a truck and equipment is ready to go,” he said.
While he said he knows the concept of a fire tax is an “unpopular topic,” he added that fundraising has not been very successful, with only a 15 percent return.
“With over 400 fire calls, [there is] only so much fundraising that can be done,” he said. “This plan is going to improve the long-term health of the fire department.”