Funding commitments are now in place for the Rescue Hose Co. to add paid firefighters for the first time in its 140-year history.

Greencastle Borough Council agreed to develop a budget to support paid firefighters using a fire tax during a joint meeting with fire company representatives and Antrim Township supervisors last week.

The borough can enact a fire tax up to 3 mills, but that much will not be needed to cover the funding request, according to Borough Manager Lorraine Hohl.

Township supervisors had pledged their support months ago, with the money coming from the general fund.

The timeline calls for a paid firefighter/EMT supervisor to be on staff by Jan. 1, 2021, with a probationary salary of $20 going to $21.50 per hour on July 1. Three part-time firefighters/EMTs will be hired around July 1 at $18 an hour.

"There are times we experience staffing shortages now," Fire Chief Kevin Barnes. "We have to be ready at all times."

Barnes explained the Rescue Hose Co. has dedicated volunteers, who will often change plans or not go away when they know there will be a staffing shortage.

The number of fire and rescue calls rose 24 percent from 2008 to 2017, while the number of responders decreased 43 percent during the same period.

"The people in this room are running the place, running calls and we're getting old," said Trustee Tim Myers, referring to the fire and EMS officers scattered around the meeting room at the fire hall.

The Rescue Hose Co. is one of the few local fire companies with similar response area and call volume that does not already have paid firefighters, Barnes said.

Volunteerism is already low and could go lower as people re-evaluate what they are involved as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It's created a new level of criticality," said Cheryl Mowen, Rescue Hose Co. president. "We could take a hit in volunteerism because of the condition of the world."

The average number of people on a call today is seven, compared to 20 to 30 in the 1980s.

The two municipalities are being asked to pay for taxes, retirement, health insurance, workers' compensation, personal protective equipment and uniforms, as well as salaries.

The costs for 2021 total $124,543, with $31,136 (25%) from the Borough of Greencastle and $93,407 (75%) from Antrim Township.

The plan calls for one additional full-time firefighter/EMT supervisor and three more part-time firefighters/EMTs in 2022, raising the costs to $229,586.

That would increase payments to $57,396 for the Borough of Greencastle and $172,190 for Antrim Township.

The 2022 numbers are "best estimates," according to Ted Meminger, a trustee and chair of the personnel committee.

"Next year's going to be somewhat of an experiment," Meminger said. He explained times of calls, numbers of calls and other information relevant to the paid staffing will be monitored and "you folks will be in the loop."

The paid firefighter funding would be in addition to the current donations from the municipalities.

Antrim Township gives $125,000 a year — $80,000 for fire and rescue, $40,000 for EMS and $5,000 for recruitment and retention. The Rescue Hose Co. also receives money from the transfer tax Waste Management pays to the township, a number that varies from year to year, but is in the $25,000 range.

The Borough of Greencastle's current donation is $17,500.

"To me this is an extension of paid EMTs," said Fred Young, township supervisor.

The Rescue Hose has two paid EMTs around the clock 365 days a year and one EMT from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays to Fridays. Ambulance club memberships and billing for emergency medical services cover the cost.

"You're asking for more paid staff because you need it ... to have gone this long without paid personnel, kudos to you," Young said.