Jeannette council rejects referendum on switch to volunteer fire department
Jeannette's career firemen still have a career.
City Council did an about-face Wednesday night and rejected a proposed ordinance that would have allowed voters to decide in November whether they wanted to retain the city's three-man paid fire department or rely on volunteers to protect the city in the future.
Councilman Mark Levander, who voted for the ordinance last month, voted against the measure much to the delight of the audience that was filled with residents and union firefighters from as far away as Charleston, W.Va., said Capt. Mike Bertolino, president of Local 78 of the International Association of Fire Fighters. Firefighters from Allegheny, Westmoreland, Mercer, Washington, Butler and Cambria counties also attended the meeting to support Jeannette firemen.
The first reading of the ordinance passed last month by a 3-2 vote. If the measure had passed the second vote, the future of the paid fire department would have been decided by voters in the November election in a referendum.
Rejection means the issue is dead.
In addition to Levander, councilmen Bill Bedont and Mark Clark opposed the ordinance. Mayor Richard Jacobelli and Councilman Gabe Homan voted for it.
Before the vote, Bertolino presented council with a 1,200-name petition from residents asking council to reject the measure.
“Levander wanted the public to make the decision and I think the 1,200 names we got were the votes he was looking for,” Bertolino said.
Bertolino told Jacobelli there was little support among residents to switch to an all-volunteer force.
“Your neighbors voted for a paid fire department and your relatives voted for a paid fire department,” Bertolino said.
“It comes down to cost,” Jacobelli said. “Can the city afford what we have? Come up with one idea how we can finance this. I want a paid fire department. Show me how to pay for it.”
Homan said it will be harder to maintain the force in the future as salaries, benefits and pension costs continue to increase along with operating costs. He said switching to volunteer firemen would have saved the city between $200,000 and $250,000, but Councilman Bill Bedont disputed the figure calculating the savings at less than $100,000.
Ryan Highlands, a paramedic with Jeannette EMS, said the ambulance service relies on the firemen to help on calls, particularly on cardiac incidents. A quick response time can be the difference between life and death, he said.
“It's a bad idea to get rid of your fire department,” Highlands said. “People will die.”
Bertolino said career firefighters, who man the station each day, can respond to a call within three or four minutes compared to 15 minutes for volunteers.
“You're going to lose response times,” he said.
Homan and Jacobelli campaigned for office last year on the issue that they would consider abolishing a paid fire department because of the city's financial condition. They said residents they talked to favored abolishing it, but the crowd in attendance last night clearly supported the firemen.
“After 100 years of having a paid fire department, I don't think it's undemocratic or unfair to let people go the way they want to go,” Homan said. “If this is what people want, we'll have to find other avenues (to cut costs),” he said. “I'm just trying to give everyone a choice.”
Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Western Pa. students bristle at changing menu choices
- School lunch group hopes to revise rules it calls impractical, too restrictive
- Keystone Bakery closes Greensburg store
- Excela, Pitt-Greensburg team on legacy videos for those in twilight of lives
- Hempfield safety seminar puts focus on Bakken crude
- Greensburg still fighting waterlogged Lynch Field, may add drainage
- Hempfield property tax addition pushed as township’s fire departments struggle
- H&M to open in Westmoreland Mall
- Puppies’ eyes glued shut, South Huntingdon animal shelter says