HARRISBURG, PA – Pennsylvania volunteer fire companies are urged to share resources, promote regional partnerships and, in some cases, consolidate two or more small departments into larger ones, reported the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The next three years may be "the most critical in the history of the state's fire service community," said state Fire Commissioner Edward Mann. The state, he said simply, "has too many fire companies." But the report also warned that effecting such change will be difficult. Mergers, whether they're fire companies, school districts, or entire municipalities, are politically unpopular. Socially and culturally, people like the neighborhood fire hall, especially in Western Pennsylvania, where fire hall wedding receptions and school dances are still common. The 156-page report, issued by the state's nonpartisan Legislative Budget and Finance Committee, contains recommendations that are mirrored by virtually every other study on the issue, including one presented to the state Senate early this year. Recommendations to broadly "regionalize" volunteer fire companies date back to at least 1976, though little progress has been made toward that goal. This report, which surveyed fire chiefs and emergency officials across the state, said many fire companies duplicate services and equipment, consuming resources that could be better spent elsewhere, or at least cooperatively. The report also cited a competitive spirit between companies that can be detrimental. Companies hold competing fund-raisers, and sometimes buy expensive equipment just because the neighboring company has also bought it, said the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Despite the reports of duplication, the state doesn't have a firm grasp on what companies own what equipment. The report suggests the state keep better inventory of fire companies' resources. It also recommends the state look into creating new funding streams for volunteer fire companies to draw from – a new tax on homeowners insurance policies, or an increase in existing fire taxes.