Pa. borough to eliminate all full-time FF positions
The borough of Larksville plans to transition to a department relying only on part-time, volunteer and subcontractor firefighters
The Citizens' Voice, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
LARKSVILLE, Pa. — Borough leaders recently informed firefighters here they would eliminate unionized, full-time positions and transition to a department that relies on part-timers, volunteers and subcontractors.
Firefighters whose jobs are on the line are steamed and residents plan to stage a protest outside of Tuesday night’s council meeting at the borough’s municipal
“The fire department has religiously worked in the best interest of the borough,” said firefighter John Fronzoni, a 20-year veteran who is union steward for the department.
Larksville, a West Side town of about 4,700 residents, currently has round-the-clock paid fire coverage staffed by three full-timers and 11 part-timers.
Council members say the COVID-19 pandemic has dried up the town’s tax base and they can no longer afford a full-time fire crew. They say the fire union’s demands — such as annual five-percent pay increases and no increase in health care contributions — were unrealistic in this day in age.
“We need to protect the taxpayers,” said Council Vice Chair Jack Pekarovsky, the former chairman of the Luzerne County Democratic Party who has sat on council for 26 years. “We sat down with them and tried to negotiate. We adjusted our demands, but they would not adjust their’s.”
Pekarovksy said he spent days polling elected officials in similar-sized towns like Edwardsville, Newport Twp., and Swoyersville and none have as many paid members. Some don’t even have any paid part-timers and rely solely on volunteers, he said.
Larksville isn’t going that route, but needs to do something to adjust from the current model, Pekarovsky said.
Fronzoni accused council members of turning their backs on loyal public servants and accused them of not negotiating in good faith. The other full-time firefighters, Jeff Williams and Zach Zdanciewicz, have served the borough for 32 years and five years, respectively.
“We want residents to know we are here to protect and serve,” Fronzoni said.
While Pekarovsky said the borough is merely exploring options at this point, a strongly worded letter sent to the union on Aug. 31 indicates a decision was already made.
“The Borough intends to vote on legislation that will dissolve the department at the conclusion of the term of the current collective bargaining agreement between the parties,” the borough’s attorney, Lawrence Moran Jr., wrote.
The current union contract expires on Dec. 31, Fronzoni said.
He predicted the public will be on the firefighters’ side when council meets at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Jamie Miller, the wife of a longtime volunteer firefighter, is organizing a protest.
“We are going to gather in a group in solidarity to show our support. I want to do it peacefully and safely,” Miller said.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the public is currently not allowed to attend council meetings, which are streamed live on the borough’s Facebook page.
Miller said she asked council leaders if they would move the meeting outside, so members of the public could have their voices heard while socially distancing. She said they refused.
Pekarovsky said that would jeopardize council members and borough workers while defeating the whole purpose of social distancing.
Additionally, the council probably won’t even be addressing the fire department, he said.
“There’s nothing on the agenda to discuss about the fire department,” Pekarovsky said.
©2020 The Citizens' Voice (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.)