Population boom in East Greenwich, Woolwich brings more stress to emergency services

January 2, 2014 5:59 pm0 commentsViews: 121
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feature cl fire coBy Jeff Wolfe

There was a time not so long ago that the townships of Woolwich and East Greenwich were fairly quaint in what was still largely agricultural communities.

But during the last 13 years, big chunks of farmland have disappeared, replaced by housing developments that often have hundreds of houses sitting on ground that was once tilled and planted by tractors with crops to be harvested in the fall.

Now houses sit on much of that same land with fertilizer being used to keep yards green rather than help those crops grow. The two townships sit in an ideal place for people who work in the Philadelphia area, Wilmington, Del., or north to Cherry Hill and for some who even commute to the New York City area.

Between 2000 and 2010, Woolwich more than tripled in population, going from 3,032 to 10,200. East Greenwich almost doubled in that time going from 5,430 people in 2000 to 9,555 in 2010. Also in that decade there were new schools built and mostly filled, Kingsway High School has been expanded and Kingsway Middle School has its own building, which was just expanded for the 2013-2014 school year.

More people and houses have also meant a lot more business, or stress, for emergency services in those areas. For example, the East Greenwich Fire Department reported making about 90 runs per year in the early and mid-1990’s. That reached the 200 mark in the mid-2000’s and then in 2008 it hit 243. In 2012, the department had 330 calls and through October of this year there had been 243 calls.

The one bit of good news is that the increase in calls is not necessarily due to urgent situations.

“The call type that has increased the most is our alarm system activation, particularly carbon monoxide alarms,” said East Greenwich Township Fire Department President Rob Gould. “This is partly due with the change in construction codes as every dwelling is required to have them now and secondly due to the increase in dwellings in the township.”

The same is true in Woolwich Township where the number of calls had increased to 523 through November of this year. And for Woolwich Township police, some of their calls have become more serious in nature with the growth.

“We have had a significant increase in calls in the last few years due to population increase and the policing of Swedesboro,” said Woolwich Township Police Chief Russell Marino. “Calls range from motor vehicle crashes to domestic violence, burglaries and unfortunately suicides. We have witnessed an increase in drugs and drug traffic in our community. There have been occasions when weapons were involved due to drugs and domestics, etc.”

The extra work also means there is a need for extra staff. The Woolwich Police Department currently has 18 full-time employees and hopes to add another full-time officer in 2014. East Greenwich has had the opposite issue with its law enforcement situation

That department had 21 full-time and one part-time officer in 2012, but due to budget cutbacks was forced to cut two full-time officers, a part-time officer and a clerk in 2013. There have been discussions between Woolwich and East Greenwich sharing police departments, but nothing has been agreed upon by mid-December.

East Greenwich’s budget woes have also taken a bit of a toll on its fire company. The Clarksboro and Mount Royal companies merged officers in 2005 and then merged on the business side in 2008. The all-volunteer company had been getting $80,000 per year from the township in the 2000s, but that has now dipped to $53,000 per year.

“This money is used to maintain and make repairs to the fire apparatus and fire equipment, equipment testing as well as replacing aging firefighting protective clothing,” Gould said. “Equipment repairs due again to our vehicles has put significant strains on the money we do receive.”

The East Greenwich Township committee did approve the purchase of a new vehicle in 2012 and it was put into service in 2013. The new rescue pumper replaced a 30-year-old fire pumper, a 27-year-old fire pumper and 19-year-old rescue truck.

“The larger apparatus usually have a 20-year life span,” Gould said. “This vehicle was paid for with bonded money, but we do need to come up with a financial plan to start replacing some equipment.”

Something that has helped the East Greenwich Fire Department in the past is its ability to apply for and receive grants. But that funding has also not been available in recent years.

“While we apply for grants on a regular basis, the last time we were awarded a grant was in 2004,” Gould said. “This allowed us to purchase new updated self-contained breathing apparatus firefighting protective equipment and fire pagers. Unfortunately these items do have a limited life span and will need to be replaced. Also, the county is looking to upgrade its radio capabilities to comply with new FCC regulations. While they are trying to cover some of the costs of new portable and mobile radios for the fire apparatus, some of the cost burden will fall on the municipalities.”

Gould said one of the reasons this is important is that the current voice activated pagers they use now will become obsolete as they will not receive radio transmissions from the new system. All members of the fire department carry a pager that costs $450 apiece. The total cost of replacing those pagers will be in the range of $18,000.

“This takes a significant chunk out of our already diminished budget,” Gould said.

Gould said one thing that has not diminished in the 40-person department is the training for the all-volunteer staff.

“We have found that this had been a bit of a change for a majority of the new residents that now call East Greenwich their home,” Gould said of having a 100 percent volunteer department. “While we provide the same service as a career-based department, we don’t always have people in the stations. Our volunteers carry the voice pager and are alerted by the Gloucester County Emergency Center when someone dials 9-1-1.”

“Our personnel are required to maintain minimum training levels. These are all state mandates.”

That includes training in yearly Hazardous Material Awareness and Operations, Hazard Communications, Blood Borne Pathogen Training, Confined Space Awareness, Lock Out/Tag Out and CPR. Gould said most of the required training is accomplished throughout the year during a weekly Tuesday night session.

However, Emergency Medical Technicians or Hazardous Material Technicians just attend additional training to keep their certifications. Gould also said that most training costs are paid for by the fire department.

Gould added some residents do donate to the fire department, which does help alleviate a little of the cost. The fire department also has hoagie sales throughout the year and its traditional Palm Sunday pancake breakfast at the Clarksboro firehouse.

And while those things may help keep the department operational, the lack of funds has impacted the way it wants to serve the growing communities of Mount Royal, Clarksboro and Mickleton.

“One of our goals is to update the buildings (in Clarksboro and Mount Royal) that we currently work out of,” Gould said. “Our plan was to build a new modern facility in the Clarksboro section of the township and to house some apparatus in the Mickleton area as we would like to improve our response times in the southern end of the township.”

Gould said one of the reasons that it is important is because there are more vehicles on the road due to the added residents.

“With the increased population in our town as well as neighboring towns, traffic becomes more of an issue with every passing month,” said Gould, who added East Greenwich has a shared services agreement with surrounding townships.  “While we had hoped to receive a grant or have some financial backing from the township, economics seemed to have taken its toll on money available.”

Gould said the department is in discussions about storing a fire truck in the new public works building on Wolfert Station Road across from Thompson Park to help response times for incidents in Mickleton.

“We hope to accomplish this over the winter and that will complete one of our goals,” Gould said. “We would still like to upgrade into a more efficient building as soon as we can secure necessary funding to support the project.”


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