Debate over shuttered fire company revived after diner fire
The Plymouth Township Fire Rescue Tilbury 169 Station, just up the road from the diner, was unable to respond after closing in August
The Times-Leader (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.)
PLYMOUTH TOWNSHIP, Pa. — When a devastating fire broke out Monday night at the Flamingo Diner, numerous units from different towns and boroughs got the call.
But as the flames and smoke swept through the building, one fire hall in particular was left on the sidelines. The Plymouth Township Fire Rescue Tilbury 169 Station, which sits just a few minutes up the road from the diner, was forced to stand by and watch.
Why? The hall was shuttered in August 2019 after negotiations involving a funding issue broke down, leading to Plymouth Township being without a fire company.
Barry Lore has served as the chief of the Plymouth Township fire hall for three years, after serving as deputy chief for seven. In total, he’s served the township for over 20 years.
“It’s extremely frustrating and incredibly disheartening,” said Lore. “This is my town, this is my life … to not be able to do what I love, it’s frustrating.”
Nanticoke City fire chief Kevin Hazleton told reporters Monday night that the blaze took “30 to 40 minutes to contain.” While the firefighters did their best to knock down and extinguish the fire, four additional engines sat idly just minutes away, and a whole host of volunteer firefighters from the township were reduced to spectators.
In a letter to the Times Leader, fire hall secretary Francis O’Looney wrote that “Since August, Plymouth Township Fire Rescue Tilbury Station 169 have been warning of this type of potential disaster and pleaded with the Supervisors to reverse their decision.”
The decision O’Looney refers to is the decision made by the township Board of Supervisors to shut down the fire hall after Lore says the company asked for an additional $10,000 in funding from the township.
“We made an offer in total of $35,000 to the township…I was taken aback when they decided that the extra $10,000 was too much to ask for,” Lore said.
In addition to denying the $10,000, the fire hall’s mortgage was pointed out by the Board of Supervisors as a significant debt that taxpayers didn’t deserve to have to pay off.
Lore says that the fire hall still raises roughly 85% of their operating budget through various fundraisers, including the popular “Horror Hall” haunted house run by the station each October.
The company also used to hold weekly bingo, but ceased after they began to lose money on it.
Since August, Lore and the rest of the Tilbury Station have reached out to the Board of Supervisors numerous times in an attempt to revive some sort of negotiations that could lead to the re-opening of the hall. According to Lore, he was told in no uncertain terms that negotiations on the matter were over.
According to town supervisor Gale Conrad, the decision to shutter the fire hall wasn’t easy, but it had to be done.
“We have an obligation ethically, morally and financially to the taxpayers,” Conrad said. “Things just weren’t adding up…no one wants to lose their own fire company.”
Conrad explained that the fire station was in tremendous debt, and waited for years before informing the township of the trouble they were in.
Plymouth Township was designated as an Act 47 municipality from 2004-2016, and a big part of that financial distress was due to the township having to help the station with its debt, according to Conrad.
The fire hall reportedly took out a $600,000 loan on the station, but when asked about the loan at a board meeting, Conrad said that it was revealed that $200,000 of that money went to pay back a prior loan.
Conrad also cited a slow response time to three separate Plymouth Township structure fires as part of the reason the decision was made to close down Tilbury Station.
“We did a lot of research, spoke to a lot of different companies…anything that had to do with the decision we had to make,” Conrad said.
Now, in the wake of a fire that devastated the Flamingo Diner, Lore is left to wonder what could have happened if he and his crew were given the call. He believes that, in the aftermath of this tragedy, the people of Plymouth Township will get involved in the fight to save the fire hall.
“The people in this town just want their fire department back,” Lore said.
Conrad disputed this, saying that two of the members of the station ran for office in the township on the platform that they would bring the Tilbury Station back, but both failed to be elected.
“The voters spoke,” Conrad said.
Lore and O’Looney have both said that they would be welcome to reviving discussions with the township.
“There’s too much at stake here to let this go,” Lore said.
©2020 The Times Leader (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.)