N.J. town seeks return of antique fire truck from disbanded fire company

Buena Borough is trying to recover the 1948 Autocar truck, a “jaws of life” device and other items from former officials for the Landisville Volunteer Fire Company


Bill Duhart
nj.com

BOROUGH OF BUENA, N.J. — An antique fire truck is part of an ongoing dispute between a disbanded volunteer fire company and the municipality it served for nearly 100 years.

Buena Borough filed a lawsuit in state Superior Court in 2021 seeking to recover the 1948 Autocar firetruck, a “jaws of life” device, two computers, 12 filing cabinets and other items from former officials of the Landisville Volunteer Fire Company.

A Landisville Volunteer Firefighter Company photo from 2018 shows its bell and an award for the truck's appearance.
A Landisville Volunteer Firefighter Company photo from 2018 shows its bell and an award for the truck's appearance. (Photo/Landisville Volunteer Firefighter Company)

Many of the items, including Length of Service Awards Program records, were returned to borough officials before the end of May, an attorney representing the former firefighters stated in a court filing.

Corinne Mullen, the attorney, said the firetruck and the Holmatro cutter and spreader rescue tool are owned by the former fire company, which is why they have not been returned.

The Borough Council held a special meeting Thursday that immediately went into a closed-door executive session for the only item on the agenda, “litigation between the Borough of Buena and the Landisville Volunteer Fire Company and Fire District 1.”

Borough officials did not provide NJ Advance Media a comment following the meeting.

Ken Barbagli, the former chief of the fire company, said he took the items because he believed they belonged to the department, according to court documents and borough officials. Buena disbanded the fire company last year after an investigation turned up multiple violations in record keeping and certification of required training by some of its members, it was previously reported.

Mullen said the court complaint against Bargagli and the former fire district said the dispute was “much adieu about nothing.”

“People ought to care about the use of taxpayer dollars for litigation that probably should have not been filed,” Mullen, who has filed a request to the court to dismiss the suit, told NJ Advance Media.

Barbagli also recently posted a video of the vintage firetruck on social media. The engine rumbled and a siren was sounded during the clip. An unidentified voice on the video said the truck would be featured in a 100th-anniversary celebration of the volunteer fire company to be held this month.

“It’s unfortunate we are here today, wasting taxpayer dollars to get returned the missing items after the dissolution and breach of the commissioners’ fiduciary duties,” Mayor David Zappariello wrote in an email to NJ Advance Media last month.

The council voted unanimously last July to disband Buena Fire District 1, also known as the Landisville Volunteer Firefighter Company, for a series of violations, including improper certification of training for some of its members, and state health and safety violations of its equipment and property, it was previously reported.

The borough suspended Landisville operations for 90 days in 2020 after state agencies identified 28 violations. The borough applied to the state to dissolve the fire company and enlarge District 2 to provide fire protection services for the entire borough of 4,500 residents located in Atlantic County.

In addition to Barbagli, eight other company officials were listed as defendants in the lawsuit, including commissioners Loretta Gazzara, Charles Gazzara, Richard DeMarco, Joseph Santagata, Patricia Andaloro, Dave Romeo, Enrico Coraluzzo and Leonard Smith, president of the fire company.

A former Landisville member who quit before the borough action, and spoke to local officials about concerns he had about the fire company, told NJ Advance Media he thinks residents should care about what happens next.

“There’s been a lot of misinformation,” said Brian Rowan, the former Landisville member. “There’s been a lot of the story that hasn’t been told. I don’t understand why it had to go to this length to get the former fire company to even do the right thing, as in to return the equipment.”

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