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Mayor Luke Ravenstahl announced today that the City of Pittsburgh and the Borough of Wilkinsburg have reached an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) on the terms of the Pittsburgh-Wilkinsburg Fire Bureau merger. The agreement outlines all of the operational and financial details of the cost-cutting and response improving merger and will be introduced to Pittsburgh City Council tomorrow morning.

“I believe this merger will be looked at as the state-wide model for efficient and effective consolidation,” Ravenstahl said. “At no cost to City taxpayers, this merger will save the residents of Wilkinsburg hundreds of thousands of dollars annually while improving their fire protection.”

In February of 2010, the City and Wilkinsburg embarked on the negotiation of such a merger, recognizing the cost-savings and service benefits to residents.  A working group led by Public Safety Director Michael Huss was formed and met bi-monthly in order to tackle the legal, financial, and operational obstacles of such a merger.

“This merger will not only provide better fire protection to Wilkinsburg residents, but save borough taxpayers more than $600,000 dollars on its annual $2.2 million budget for fire service,” said Wilkinsburg Borough Manager Marla Marcinko.

The execution of the IGA agreement required cooperation between two municipalities, the state general assembly, the City’s IGA and Act 47 teams, and two firefighter unions. Last fall, the Governor signed Senate Bill 918 which will allow the City to hire Wilkinsburg firefighters with appropriate service and pension benefits. The passage of the bill was a critical step in allowing the merger to move forward.

“In my 20-years of experience in public safety, I’ve looked at the benefits of many possible mergers and consolidations,” said Public Safety Director Michael Huss. “Merging Wilkinsburg’s fire department with the City’s didn’t just make financial sense, it made operational sense and all parties were committed to ironing out the details and getting this deal done.”

Under the IGA, 24 Wilkinsburg firefighters will become PBF firefighters pending Pittsburgh City Council approval of the IGA. Wilkinsburg City Council approved the IGA during their March 16th meeting. Wilkinsburg firefighters have already completed emergency medical technician certification, and PBF fire operations and procedure training.  They will have 12-months from the start of employment to obtain City residency. In addition, they will carry over 54 percent of their time for purposes of pension vesting and benefits, and will enter the City’s pension fund at a 100 percent funding level.

Wilkinsburg Councilman Jason Cohn, and member of the merger’s working group commented, "Wilkinsburg residents will be benefitting greatly in public safety and financially from this landmark agreement. The City of Pittsburgh is getting an outstanding group of employees that will serve their residents as they have ours, with professionalism and skill." 

The City’s expenses will be covered through annual reimbursements, and the PBF will gain a fire station, increasing the City’s public safety response capacity. The current Wilkinsburg fire station will become PBF Engine Company No. 16 and will be dispatched to calls in both Pittsburgh and Wilkinsburg. Currently eight on-duty firefighters respond to a structure fire in the Borough versus the 23 firefighters that respond to a City fire. The improved response under the merger will allow Wilkinsburg to meet the National Fire Protection Agency’s standards for safe and efficient fire ground operations.  In addition, the PBF will provide emergency management to the borough including: hazardous materials response; vehicle and technical rescue services; and fire prevention and education.

Due to the population density of the Wilkinsburg Borough and high amount of structure fires, the PBF often responds to calls for mutual aid.

“Residents deserve and demand quick public safety responses and professional fire protection,” Ravenstahl said. “Operationally, our fire bureau was often called out to structure fires in Wilkinsburg. Now, the City will be getting paid for it, Wilkinsburg will save money, and residents will be safer. This is what we call a win-win.”

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