ShareThis Page
Jefferson Hills strips certification from Gill Hall VFC |
South Hills

Jefferson Hills strips certification from Gill Hall VFC

Matthew Guerry
| Tuesday, January 15, 2019 1:30 a.m

Despite the protests of its members, Gill Hall Volunteer Fire Company has been cut off from municipal funds and no longer will receive dispatches from Allegheny County Emergency Services.

Citing flagging membership and a decline in quality of service, Jefferson Hills Borough Council voted Jan. 14 to drop the department as one of its certified fire companies.

The 71-year-old, 16-member department was not dissolved by the vote and still maintains ownership of its fire hall, truck and other equipment.

Council was split 5-2 on the decision, with members Vickie Ielase and Mary Reynolds dissenting.

“This whole subject is very emotional. It’s highly charged, and everybody is very passionate about their stations and fire protections in this community,” Councilman Tracy Khalil said.

“We’ll always welcome Gill Hall back into the fold. That’s the ultimate goal. Hopefully, that will happen,” he continued.

The department had been poised to consolidate with Jefferson 885 and Floreffe volunteer fire companies but pulled out of the merger process after nearly a year of discussions because of what Chief Calvin Felix called a lack of transparency on the part of the other departments.

Members of the other two departments and borough officials have said they never were given concrete reasons for Gill Hall’s withdrawal.

Last January, members from all three companies formed a task force to hammer out a new charter and bylaws for a singular organization following the conclusion of a borough-commissioned fire study, which originally recommended the Floreffe outfit be de-certified and the remaining companies combine.

Task force and council members have said the Gill Hall department grew uncooperative and unresponsive over the course of consolidation talks. In the intervening months, several members of the company left for Jefferson 885, saying the station had become more of a social club than a firehouse.

Felix said around $20,000 of the company’s $65,000 budget comes from the borough.

Members of council and the Gill Hall company argued during the Jan. 14 meeting, raising their voices at times. Reynolds walked out of the meeting shortly after the vote.

“This is not a merger. This is a takeover,” said Vincent Talarico, a member of the department.

Several Gill Hall members asserted during the meeting that council could be leaving homes under their ward at risk by de-certifying the company, a concern echoed by Mayor Jan Cmar. Chief Anthony Tomer, of Jefferson 885, and Council President Christopher King disputed the claim, saying the company had responded to fires shorthanded in the past and the community would be safer under the merger.

Service in Gill Hall’s jurisdiction falls now to the remaining certified departments within the borough and to the neighboring Pleasant Hills and Broughton volunteer fire companies.

Felix said the Gill Hall company has been working with an attorney and did not rule out the possibility of pursuing litigation. Gill Hall would consider consolidation, he said, if the members of all three companies put the matter to a vote.

Several council members expressed hope that the department would rejoin discussions with Jefferson 885 and Floreffe, which are still on track to consolidate and will continue to operate out of their respective stations. John Thatcher, who chaired the task force and will serve as the new department’s president, said the two could combine within the next two to three months.

Fire departments across Pennsylvania continue to hemorrhage members in what a recently released state legislative study called a “public safety crisis.” State staffing numbers have shrunk over the past four decades from around 300,000 to just 38,000 today, according to the study.

Matthew Guerry is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using 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.