Dave Fulton, Cresson Fire

Dave Fulton (right), president of Cresson Volunteer Fire Company, talks with firefighters Shane Adams and Dylan Broad at the Cresson station, 233 Ashcroft Ave. on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019.

The trucks will still say “Lilly” and “Cresson,” but a new volunteer fire company soon will be serving eight municipalities in the Main Line area.

Keystone Regional Fire/Rescue Department represents almost seven years of negotiations and work to merge Community Volunteer Fire Company of Lilly with Cresson Volunteer Fire Company.

Fire company leaders say the merger creates a stronger organization for the future.

“We approached it from a proactive standpoint,” Cresson fire company President Dave Fulton said. “We are both still very viable departments, but the handwriting is on the wall.”

When Fulton joined the Cresson company in 1976, there were 30 or 40 firefighters responding to every call.

“Now you have half that,” he said. “And the amount of fundraising to do to pay for all this is incredible.”

Neither fire company was in danger of shutting down, Lilly fire company President Paul Sklodowski said.

“This is not for for today,” Sklodowski said “This is for the future.”

Since there was no crisis, leaders took their time to put together a strong regional organization.

“There were a lot of things that needed to be caught up with both departments,” Sklodowski said. “We wanted to put all of our ducks in order. We didn’t want anything to come up later.”

‘In both towns’

Keystone Regional will be primary responding service for all of Cresson, Sankertown and Lilly boroughs and Cresson, Washington and Munster townships.

Parts of Allegheny and Gallitzin townships are also in the coverage area.

Fire company leaders met with township supervisors and borough councils in all the municipalities throughout the merger process, Fulton said.

Paperwork involved new articles of incorporation as a nonprofit and contracts with each of the municipalities.

The process was tedious, Fulton said.

“You wouldn’t believe the legal issues in merging these corporations,” he said. “If one had gone out of business and the other had taken it over, we could have done that in a week. We wanted both departments to remain.”

Residents in the coverage area will not see any difference in response, the leaders stressed. Both fire stations will continue to operate with the existing equipment.

“One thing we guaranteed: There will be fire trucks and fire houses in both towns,” Fulton said.

Maintaining both stations also preserves the history of the two organizations. The new nonprofit’s corporate structure will be led by one president, with two vice presidents – one for each station, Sklodowski said. Nominations were made during a joint meeting this month, with an election scheduled for the Dec. 2 joint meeting.

Fulton is the only nominee for president. Sklodowski is the nominee for vice president for Lilly and Jim Grodis is Cresson’s vice president nominee.

There will also be a board of trustees for each station to oversee operations and maintenance.

Keystone Regional will have 11 vehicles, including Lilly’s antique truck that is used in parades. There are about 50 active firefighters, who are currently members of both fire companies.

“We merged membership a year ago to get the gears moving,” Fulton said.

“All Lilly members are members of Cresson, and all Cresson members are members of Lilly.”

‘Reasons for merging’

The membership change was among several steps toward January’s merger.

Two years ago, the two fire companies got a single insurance policy.

“We saved $3,000 the first year, just by combining insurance,” Fulton said.

The insurance savings illustrates one of the major benefits of a regional department, he said, adding that combining administrative functions and financial operations under one set of officers helps improve efficiency as well.

“That takes a lot of the load off the people who run on your calls,” he said.

“There’s a lot more to a merger than membership.”

Fulton said the financial and administrative efficiency would apply even if the Lilly and Cresson fire stations were not just 4 miles apart. He can see why Reade Township and Patton Borough fire companies recently announced merger discussions, despite the 16-mile drive between stations.

“Distance doesn’t really take away from real reasons for merging,” he said.

“Both those departments have great personnel. It could be a good thing.”

Leaders came up with the Keystone Regional Fire/Rescue Department name to avoid favoring any of the eight municipalities. It also provides opportunity for growth.

“If someone in the future wants to come into it, they can come into it with the same benefits that (Cresson) and Lilly currently have,” Fulton said.

Randy Griffith is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 532-5057. Follow him on Twitter @PhotoGriffer57.

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