Peters Township awards contract for design of new fire substation

Harry Funk

Peters Township Council last week awarded a contract for architectural services related to the design of a fire department substation.

EPM Architecture of Bradford Woods, a firm that has worked with construction and renovation of several other fire stations in the region, submitted a proposed fee of $250,000.

The substation, to be built on township-owned property at 435 Bebout Road, is intended to bolster fire protection for the southeastern part of Peters, the population of which has grown substantially in the past three decades.

Along with its main Station 1 on East McMurray Road, Peters Township Fire Department has an unmanned substation at the corner of Bebout and Sugar Camp roads.

A strategic plan prepared by the three top fire department officials – Chief Michael McLaughlin, Assistant Chief William Gaughan and Deputy Chief David Caputo – recommends eventually providing staffed fire suppression coverage at all times at the new facility, to be known as Station 3.

“You’re talking about seven additional firefighters to be able to do this, and that is not an inconsequential cost,” said township manager Paul Lauer, who provided council with an estimate of between $764,000 and $794,000 based on “today’s compensation for our firefighters.”

“What we should anticipate is that we will reach that point somewhere before 2030, but we’ll assume all of that cost in 2030,” he said.

To help offset the cost, the fire department plans to continue to apply for Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grants, offered through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Peters Township has a combination department of volunteers and career firefighters. According to the strategic plan, the department’s current roster is 53, with 12 full-time employees, including two fire administrators, along with seven part-time and 34 volunteers.

“One of the main criteria that the SAFER grant likes when you’re asking for staffing is to actually open a new station,” McLaughlin said, pointing out the new firefighters would not be assigned to a particular station. “We’re adding these assets to the community.”

Gaughan said the department can apply for the grants each year, which could help cover the cost of adding paid positions incrementally.

“The fact that we have numbers based on population growth, on alarm growth and on, basically, value-of-property growth are all going to be positives as they evaluate these grants,” he said. “It’s a crapshoot, like any other grant. If you tell a good story, you’re going to get considered.”

As far as reaching the goal of staffing two of the stations 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Lauer explained the role of the elected officials.

“This is really a question for council to answer, on how you want to get there,” he said. “If you chose to do that, what you would be looking at is increasing the amount of money we spend on fire protection by about $950,000 a year, and that’s probably a three-tenths-of-a-mill increase in taxes.

“We recognize that there’s a need for a combination fire department,” Lauer continued. “I think you have a model here for what can solve a problem that’s statewide. But it comes with a cost.”

The strategic plan also proposes dividing the township into two fire districts, covering the western and eastern halves of Peters.

“On critical calls, there will be response from all the fire stations within Peters Township, as well as North Strabane,” Lauer said, referencing the neighboring township’s fire department, with which Peters has a mutual-aid agreement. “Medical calls are going to be handled out of Fire Station 1 and Fire Station 3, depending on whether they’re located in District 1 or District 2. And then all other calls will be handled in that same kind of fashion.”