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Westmoreland

Hempfield supervisors call a 'timeout' on township's fire bureau

Jacob Tierney
| Monday, Jan. 22, 2018, 10:15 p.m.

Hempfield leaders put the township's fire bureau on a “time out,” postponing training sessions and member recruitment, leaving some fire chiefs confused and looking for answers.

The bureau, which oversees the 12 township fire departments, did not meet in December or January.

Tom Kline, chief of Hempfield No. 2 Volunteer Fire Department, said he's ready to bring on two new much-needed firefighters, but hasn't been able to get their application approved by the township supervisors.

“Those two being held up really hurt me,” he said.

He said he's received no communication about why the bureau hasn't been meeting, or what the plan is for the future.

“We had a plan, we were going forward with it, and I believe the majority of us were in favor of the plan going forward,” he said. “But now we have new supervisors and the plan has totally changed.

“And none of us have any idea what the new plan is.”

George Reese, chief of the Carbon fire department, was already on the board of supervisors, but became chair at the start of this year. New supervisor Rob Ritson replaced Jerry Fagert.

Reese said the new board needed some time to regroup and think about what fire service in the bureau will look like in the future.

“We just took a time out,” he said. “We are looking at the whole picture. We just decided it was time to take a breather.”

Three members of the eight-person fire bureau left this month.

Two of them, John Storey and Bruce Beitel, resigned, according to Reese. The third, Shaun Teacher, received a letter telling him his services were no longer needed. He was one year into a two-year term.

Teacher served as the bureau's training officer. He said he hasn't been told why he was dismissed from the board.

“I would hope that the plan just has not been advertised or publicized yet,” he said. “Unfortunately, I think it's going back to where there's no common goal for all the different fire companies.”

The letter Teacher received told him that all future training classes were canceled.

Reese said he could not discuss personnel matters, so he could not comment on the bureau members' departure.

At Monday's township supervisors' meeting, Ritson told a group of firefighters that things would be made clear soon.

“Have a little patience. Have a little faith,” he said. “We're going to tell you what's going on.”

Mike Hutchinson, president of Hempfield No. 2 Volunteer Fire Department, isn't convinced.

“We just want to know what the plan is,” he said.

Not all firefighters oppose situation

Not all township firefighters oppose the supervisors' actions.

Greg Saunders, chief of the Bovard Volunteer Fire Department and president of the Hempfield Township Fire Chiefs' Association, said the shakeup at the fire bureau is a step in the right direction.

“We've had this bureau of fire in motion for about two years, and there was a lot of poor communication going on, and a lot of — I don't want to call it dictatorial — but a lot of being told what to do.”

The bureau was created in 2016. Previously, each fire department was its own entity. Each received some money from the township, but had to make up much of its budget with fundraising and grants.

Under the bureau, the township fully funds each department.

However, Saunders said the bureau's members were promoting a one-size-fits-all approach that didn't work well for the 12 departments.

He said bureau members were suggesting a host of regulations — including a prohibition on hair dye and the long facial hair like Saunders' own handlebar mustache — that were unnecessarily restrictive.

Though things seem chaotic now, he thinks fresh blood and a fresh direction will benefit township firefighters.

“There's a lot of confusion, but hey, that's politics,” he said.

The five remaining members of the fire bureau will meet Feb. 6 and Feb. 15.

Jacob Tierney is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6646, jtierney@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Soolseem.

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