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Fact-finding, communication must come first

It was 2017 when Liberty Township and Girard city officials spent time exploring the possibility of merging their fire departments to create a fire district.

The effort was met with much opposition by residents worried about the potential of increased response times and firefighters likely fearing job loss — but a study that could have determined whether these concerns were legitimate never went forward.

That’s a shame because now, four years later, we still don’t know the costs, risks and feasibility of such a merger. And once again, merger discussions are being broached.

In 2017, Liberty trustees had voted 3-0 to proceed with the study, but Girard never approved a resolution to approve such a study.

Then, late last year Girard Mayor James Melfi said Girard City Council gave approval to begin studying what would be involved in creating a district with neighboring communities.

This time, the merger might include Liberty or Weathersfield townships.

We consistently have believed that regionalization and the possibility of merged efforts that could create efficiency or cut costs are ideas worth exploring.

Indeed, such a merger likely would bring growing pains. There would be obstacles and differences to overcome. Questions involve the evolution of EMS service that is offered by some departments, but not all. They also involve how to overcome differing pay scales or labor union contracts. Of course, there are questions about funding issues, about response times and whether all stations and equipment would be needed.

The key is that all these issues must be explored with complete facts and open minds.

We encourage these communities to discuss the possibility with the firefighters who are on the ground level. It is these men and women who put their lives on the line every day and know their communities and response times well.

And we encourage moving forward on a study that will provide statistics, facts and answers to all the questions that residents and firefighters raised in 2017 — and more. All this information is critical in making good, educated decisions. Indeed, if the study had gone forward four years ago, we would already be one step ahead.

Now, we urge that it be approached with open minds by all about how such a merger could work, rather than arguments about why it won’t work.

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