PHILIPSBURG — Philipsburg Borough currently has two fire companies — Hope Vol. Fire Co and Reliance Vol. Fire Co. — that together make up the Philipsburg Fire Department.
But the borough is currently exploring the possibility of decertifying Reliance Fire Co.
A special meeting held on Thursday by Philipsburg Borough Council resulted in officials considering taking further action in the form of an ordinance to be voted on at a meeting on Monday, Jan. 20. At that meeting, council could amend the borough code “relating to fire protection by decertifying Reliance Fire Company No. 1 as a recognized volunteer fire company authorized to fight fire or provide emergency services in the borough.”
In other words, volunteer firefighters at Reliance would no longer be able to respond to borough emergencies.
Council President Barb Gette told The Progress on Monday that circumstances have been leading up to this moment for some time, stating 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.
“The borough has asked Reliance for policies, documentation and (other stuff),” Gette said. “And they’ve not been ready to comply. So we’ve been working with them, trying to make them understand that they have to (comply).”
Within the last month, Gette said the borough was informed that an election was held within the Philipsburg Fire Dept. where Gette said it is her understanding that Hope Fire Co. was not involved.
“We have asked for documentation concerning the election, but have not been given any,” Gette said.
Gette said because of this, council decided not to accept the election results and took the steps to decertify Reliance. Gette said that action would result in the fire company not be recognized by the borough as a “functioning fire company.”
“This is something that none of us want to do, but enough is enough,” Gette said. “It’s our obligation that our fire department is functioning and our residents’ safety has to be important. We just don’t know where else to go with this. It’s going to be a shock to everybody (if the ordinance is approved.) The fire company is meeting the needs of the residents, but it’s not functioning as an entity.”
Gette cited talks that occurred years ago with the merger of Reliance and Hope into one fire company, with citizens helping it move forward — only to have Reliance back out at the very end.
“We had independent outside businessmen as a committee to help them merge,” Gette said. “It wasn’t the borough — it was the businessmen volunteering to do this with their time. Then all of a sudden when the work was done, Reliance decided they didn’t want it. So, we don’t know where to go with this.”
In terms of being decertified for Philipsburg Borough, Gette said they could still remain a fire company of other municipalities if they were certified in those areas.
“I hope that happens,” Gette said. “I think we all hope that happens.”
Philipsburg Borough gives funds each year to the Moshannon Valley Fire Council, which is comprised of fire companies in Philipsburg Borough, Rush Township and Boggs Township. Gette said the fire council then in turn distributes the funding to the respective companies.
If Reliance is decertified, Gette said she’s unsure how it would affect funding. However, Gette feels having one less fire company in the borough would not affect the quality of fire protection that residents would receive if an emergency occurred.
“I feel confident that the coverage will be there because of the remaining local fire companies and others (nearby),” Gette said.
Reliance Fire Co. Chief John Huber said he feels the situation started whenever they discovered that Hope and Reliance were not receiving the equal funding from fire council — although Huber stated he did not know the specific numbers.
“We’ve got to start working together to make a fire department,” Huber said. “It’s not going to work by fighting back and forth right now.”
Huber said if they are decertified, fire insurance “will go through the roof.” The company would then not be legally allowed to fight borough fires. However, Huber said if something popped up where there was a fire and “someone is in jeopardy, we’re going to go.”
Regarding to the election that Gette cited as a problem, Huber said every year there is an election between Hope and Reliance for the Philipsburg Fire Department.
“We ran for all of the chair offices and Reliance won all of the chair offices because the president, the secretary and the treasurer all declined,” Huber said.
Huber said Philipsburg Fire Department Chief Jeff Harris “declined his election,” therefore Clay Gilham became the new chief.
“Clay won the election and they’re saying it’s an unfair election,” Huber said. “Well, we followed everything by the bylaws so I don’t understand how it’s an unfair election, but that’s what they’re saying.”
Huber confirmed that Reliance could still legally fight fires in Rush and Boggs townships, as they are also a part of the fire council.
“There’s a lot of things that need to be played out that people aren’t aware of,” Huber said. “Just shutting the fire company down just because we wanted to know where the money’s at isn’t a thing to do.”
Huber reiterated that if someone is in danger in the borough, he believes they will still go out to help.
“With me speaking as Reliance’s chief, if there’s a call in Philipsburg Borough and somebody’s in jeopardy, I believe me and my guys are going to go,” Huber said.
While the matter can be voted on at Monday’s meeting, in which Huber said he and others will be attending, he hopes the borough will wait to gather more information.
“There’s a lot of stuff that residents need to hear (before a decision is made),” Huber said.