Pa. volunteer fire department revived with new administration

Recovering from last administration's "dictatorship," firefighters are rebounding with new gear, equipment and leadership

By Bob Kalinowski
The Citizens' Voice

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. — On the brink of disbanding just two years ago, the township volunteer fire department has rebounded with a new administration at the helm.

For years, the new leaders said, the department was run like a dictatorship by former chief John Yuknavich, who neglected bills while raiding the fire department’s bank accounts.

Yuknavich was ousted in August 2014 after federal authorities charged him with stealing at least $45,000 from the fire company. He later served six months in jail

Looking at empty bank accounts and old equipment while facing mortgage foreclosure, the remaining members were about to fold the department.

Then the municipality moved in to help.

Since that time, they have worked together to transfer ownership of the fire headquarters to the township, buy new bunker gear for members, purchase a new ladder truck and build up the department’s bank account to nearly $50,000.

Additionally, the department’s Insurance Service Office Fire Suppression Rating has dramatically improved, which could soon lead to lower insurance rates for homes and businesses.

The department is even poised to host a bazaar once again for the first time in a decade.

“These guys came a long way after we got the thief out of there,” Wilkes-Barre Township Mayor Carl Kuren said.

Things are going so well now that a paid firefighter is stationed at headquarters 14 hours a day from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., the mayor said.

“They did a good job over there,” Kuren said. “They started from scratch.”

Assistant Fire Chief Kevin Leckey said the rebound was the result of “a lot of hard work.”

“And we’re going to keep working to get the trust back,” Leckey said.

As part of his plea, Yuknavich is banned from rejoining the department.

“We don’t associate with him,” Leckey said.

Attempts to reach Yuknavich were not successful.

Fire Chief Rich Hart said things are run much differently now that Yuknavich is gone.

“I think everybody is happy he’s out and could never come back. With him, we never had meetings. Nobody knew what was going on. It basically was a one-man show,” Hart said. “It’s running 1,000 times better. People now have a say within the department.”

Hart credited Kuren’s help with saving the fire department.

Wilkes-Barre Township absorbed the $77,000 that was remaining on the mortgage of the fire house and invested $25,000 in new gear for firefighters. It also loaned the department $68,000 that was missing from the fireman’s relief association and paid $65,000 to help purchase a new ladder truck.

“It if wasn’t for him, we would have wrapped it up,” Hart said. “A lot of people were ready to throw the towel in.”

Copyright 2016 The Citizens' Voice

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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