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City has new fire chief

| Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Although its future is uncertain, the Connellsville City Fire Department has a new chief.

Dennis Petrowski, former assistant chief, seemed the likely fit when former Fire Chief Joe Childs retired.

"He was the natural person to step up as chief," said Connellsville Mayor Judy Reed, who said the director of public safety appoints someone to the position.

"He's had an awful lot of experience with the department, and when the former fire chief (Childs) was out for medical reasons, he actually handled and managed the fire scenes," Reed added. "He has the right personality -- he's cool and calm and there's been many critical situations in the city where he has responded appropriately."

Petrowski, in fact, has nearly 40 years of service with the city fire department.

"When I was 21, I was looking for a job and they had an opening," Petrowski said.

Petrowski had no idea then that the job would become his lifelong occupation. He was a hoseman, driver, lieutenant, assistant chief and now chief.

"After I started doing it, I really came to love it," he said. "Back then we had two stations and 14 men who worked around the clock; it was more or less like a family of guys."

While Petrowski would love to see that same scenario during his reign as chief, it is unlikely it will happen.

"That would be wonderful if we could expand and create jobs, but the services that the city provides are based on the taxes we bring in, and things are really tight right now," Reed said. "Right now our options seem to be to cut services or raise taxes."

In fact, RDM (Resource Development and Management Inc.), a consulting firm contracted through the state, is currently analyzing the city's assets and deficiencies in order to put together a five-year plan to help improve and run the city as a business.

"We've already cut back three police officers, and they (RDM representatives) have also taken a look at our fire department and the neighboring volunteer fire departments," Reed said. "They found that there is a duplication of services with all of the volunteer departments around the city and thought one way to save money would be to share services with those volunteer departments."

Petrowski does not agree that getting rid of the fire department would eliminate some financial strain on the city.

"They say they're going to save money (if the paid department is eliminated), but I don't think any savings will be realized," he said. "Also, with our department here in the city, people know that we're here and we're on our way.

"With a volunteer department, most volunteers are working during the day and the response is stretched thin and response time is longer," Petrowski added.

Reed said the city will wait until RDM has completed its study before any decision would be made as to the fate of the city's fire department.

"We would have to take a look at their findings, and if it is recommended that get rid of the fire department, a vote would have to be taken," she said, adding that the issue could possibly be part of a public ballot to see what city residents think.

Another option would be to eliminate the department through attrition, by not replacing the employees once they retire.

Currently, two others besides Petrowski are employed with the fire department -- William Mickey and Craig Gates.

For now, Petrowski and his co-workers will serve, as they have over the years, with the hope that the department will have a future.

Childs said Petrowski will do a fine job at the helm. "He's a nice guy -- easy to work with -- and I wish him the best of luck."

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