Pa. township makes noise about fire siren

By Richard Gazarik

HEMPFIELD TOWNSHIP, Pa. — A dispute between Hempfield Township supervisors and the West Point Volunteer Fire Department over an ear-shattering siren has not gone silent.

The supervisors Monday threatened to remove West Point from Westmoreland County's emergency dispatching system unless the department signs an agreement the supervisors and firefighters reached in October.

If the deal is not signed by Jan. 2, Hempfield will notify Westmoreland County 911 to remove West Point from its call list.

"We thought we had resolved this months ago," Supervisor Doug Weimer said. "They came back to the board with more demands, and the deal went out the window."

West Point residents have complained about the decibel level of the siren, which they said scares children and rattles windows and nerves.

Supervisor Bob Davidson said the issue never should have gotten this far.

"We thought we had it worked out and they came up with another plan. They have strung this out and strung this out. There comes a time to say enough is enough. We have reached that point," he said. "We're not going to back down."

Miles Webb, fire department treasurer, negotiated with the supervisors. He did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Greg Saunders, president of the Hempfield Fire Chiefs Association, said the dispute jeopardizes the safety of West Point residents.

"This is a huge threat, not only to the fire department, but to the neighborhood," Saunders said.

When the agreement between the supervisors and fire department was announced at a public meeting in October, both sides praised the other for the compromise.

But the fire department balked at signing the deal and asked the board to renegotiate the terms.

The agreement called for the township to withhold $5,000 of the annual $15,000 stipend it gives to each of the dozen township volunteer fire departments. The supervisors would use the money to buy a more traditional-sounding alarm that wouldn't upset residents. Hempfield agreed to pay for the installation.

Davidson said the firefighters were opposed to using the $5,000 that would have gone to the fire department. He said the department also wanted the right to reject bids for the electrical work even though the township was paying the bill.

Weimer said the two sides differ on the type of siren that would be purchased and its location.

The motion adopted Monday is not an idle threat, he said.

"This is how serious the board was with the motion," he said. "The community has put a lot of pressure on the board over this issue. We've spent of a lot of time on this issue. We're starting to lose patience with them.

"We just want them to sign it and be done. We're not going to renegotiate. We're done. This is it."

If West Point is dropped from the dispatching system, Saunders said, residents of the housing development would have to rely on fire protection from the Dry Ridge Volunteer Fire Department in Unity, about a mile away.

"I told them to sign it. Being right doesn't help," Saunders said.

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