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North Versailles fire department issues remain under discussion

| Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013, 3:56 a.m.

North Versailles officials continue their efforts to revise township policy regarding the regulation of fire departments.

Volunteer firefighters and township commissioners discussed emergency dispatching, liabilities and eligibility requirements for volunteers at a special meeting on Wednesday.

Representatives of the Crestas and West Wilmerding departments raised concerns that their companies are not dispatched to all fires in the township.

“There have been fires where we've been sitting in the station with a full crew,” Crestas Chief Bernard Furby said. “We never got a call.”

Furby said the reason is the way the Fire Department of North Versailles fills out paperwork it submits to county emergency dispatchers.

Furby said he fills out emergency run cards so that FDNV is dispatched to every daytime fire in the township before outside companies are dispatched, but FDNV doesn't do that for his company and West Wilmerding.

“We need a level playing field,” Furby said. “We're supposed to be brothers in arms.”

FDNV Chief Mike Volpe said the information he submits to the county is based on the proximity of surrounding companies. If other nearby outside companies can respond faster and with the right equipment, he said he lists them first on the call sheet.

Commissioner Art Marra said he agrees with Volpe that proximity should be given first consideration in an emergency.

However, commission president George Thompson recalled a fire on Third Street in August when departments from Turtle Creek and elsewhere responded but Crestas and West Wilmerding did not get a call.

“That's what I don't want,” Thompson said.

FDNV is a merged company made up of Dixon Hollow, Sunset-Central, and Green Valley departments. The merger happened in 1999. Volpe said he would consider the possibility of more mergers but commissioners didn't seem ready to discuss that at the meeting.

Township officials cited a state study from 2001 that advised against forming a single township-wide fire department.

There was some discussion of liability issues as they affect the fire departments responding to emergency calls outside their immediate coverage area.

Thompson said he plans to have township solicitor Greg Evashavik examine the original documents chartering the fire departments and report back on liability and other matters.

Representatives of the fire departments at the meeting said they did agree on a proposed provision that would prohibit firefighters who've been arrested on felony charges from serving but allow those charged with misdemeanors to volunteer.

Commissioner George Beswick questioned whether it was a good idea to let anyone with any criminal record serve in the department. One of the concerns, he said, is that a person with a criminal record might steal something from a home while fighting a fire.

“I have never heard of anybody stealing anything from anyone's house,” Furby said.

Eric Slagle is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1966, or eslagle@tribweb.com.

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