PHILIPSBURG — In front of a standing-room only crowd that included many members of Reliance Fire Co., Philipsburg Borough Council voted to table action that would decertify the fire company.
Additionally, all parties involved encouraged working together to collect additional information.
At a recent meeting, council decided to draft an ordinance to shut down the fire company, stating that ongoing circumstances lead them to their decision.
Councilwoman Barb Gette stated in a recent story in The Progress that borough officials have asked for information from the company at times and have either not received that information in a timely manner, or have not received the information at all.
Philipsburg Mayor John Streno opened Monday’s special meeting by stating he was against decertifying the company.
“There’s some issues that need to be worked (on),” Streno said. “But let me say this — I’m glad to see this many people so you can all spread the word quickly. I am asking council to table this ordinance that we’re here to talk about tonight.”
Streno said the borough now has more information and more cooperation on the fire company’s part, stating he would veto the matter should council decide to decertify them.
“So that’s where we stand,” Streno said. “No ordinance tonight and if there is an ordinance, it’ll be vetoed.”
Borough Manager Joel Watson referenced a previous meeting on Jan. 9 as far as hearing various comments.
“Fire companies exist for one reason only,” Watson said. “You guys know that’s for emergency response. If that isn’t being done as efficiently as it should be, I think everybody here should question that, and I think everybody here can agree with that.”
Watson said there’s been various sides to the argument, with some saying council should intervene and others saying to let Reliance Fire Co. run on its own.
“Each one of these groups seem to have different information,” Watson said. “I know when we asked for information, we get different information and both sides swear to it that this is the way it is and, if you look on social media, you’ll find more information yet.”
Tension between the borough and Reliance had been building over various matters, ranging from the borough’s disapproval of a recent election for the Philipsburg Fire Dept. (which also includes Hope Fire Co.) to Reliance stating they are not receiving equal funding from the Moshannon Valley Fire Council like Hope Fire Co.
Moshannon Valley Fire Council distributes funding between Hope and Reliance fire companies of Philipsburg Borough, as well as Rush Township and Decatur Township.
Reliance Fire Co. President Clay Gilham said it never should have gotten to the point of considering decertifying the department.
“This would’ve never gone as far as it did if the lines of communication had been opened,” Gilham said. “Nobody throughout this whole process, nobody contacted me. I’m the president of Reliance Fire Company. Nobody picked up the phone and called me. Nobody called down at the firehouse and left a message for me. There was no communication. We need to keep the lines of communication open. If you have a question, I live half a mile from here. I’m not hard to find. Get a hold of me. If there’s a question about something Reliance is doing, get a hold of me.”
When questions regarding whether Moshannon Valley Fire Council distributes evenly, Hope Assistant Chief Justin Butterworth said funds are instead distributed based off on need. Butterworth then used a theoretical situation to explain further.
“If Hope Fire Company comes and needs tires on their engine and it costs $4,000, fire council did not then give $4,000 to Reliance or buy them a set of tires just to make things even,” Butterworth said. “It was based on the need.”
Butterworth said when Reliance previously had a specific engine, there was “a year that tens of thousands of dollars were spent on that for maintenance, and Hope didn’t see nearly that much in terms of maintenance with its engine.”
“It’s not equal because necessity doesn’t dictate that it be equal,” Butterworth said.
Reliance Fire Co. member Robbie Ferguson said he didn’t like the idea that council could only table the matter, concerned that it could come up once again later down the road. Others in the audience wondered how they’d be reassured decertifying wouldn’t happen by just tabling it. One person also encouraged no more bashing of each party via social media.
Rush Township Supervisor Pat Romano Jr. said everyone involved needs to leave “the past in the past” in regard to what the borough, Reliance and Moshannon Valley Fire Council has done.
“We’re probably going to revamp the (fire) council and look at some other things, too, that we can really get this back to where everybody feels the trust that needs to be there,” Romano said. “Let’s put the axes away — shut the grinders off — because it’s not going to get fixed if we do that.”
At first, council did not take action on anything because Solicitor Patrick Fanelli said tabling a matter didn’t technically need to be done. However, some in attendance voiced concern about it; therefore, council then voted unanimously to table the ordinance and to work together to come up with further information.