Firefighters, town leaders clash over closed Pa. fire station

At a contentious public meeting, town supervisors told firefighters the decision to close the station was final


Bob Kalinowski
The Citizens' Voice, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

PLYMOUTH TOWNSHIP, Pa. — One week after a blaze ravaged a diner on Route 11, residents again packed the monthly supervisors meeting on Monday to demand the township’s volunteer fire company be resurrected.

Before engaging in an hour of debate, township officials insisted last year’s decision to decertify Plymouth Twp.’s Tilbury fire station is final and it’s pointless to continue bringing it up every meeting.

Plymouth Township firefighters and town supervisors clashed at a contentious public meeting on Monday over the closing of Tilbury Station 169. Firefighters criticized the decision to shutter the station after a fire at a diner last week, but town leaders said their decision is final. (Photo/Plymouth Township Fire Rescue Tilbury Station 169 Facebook)
Plymouth Township firefighters and town supervisors clashed at a contentious public meeting on Monday over the closing of Tilbury Station 169. Firefighters criticized the decision to shutter the station after a fire at a diner last week, but town leaders said their decision is final. (Photo/Plymouth Township Fire Rescue Tilbury Station 169 Facebook)

Speaking directly to many of the firefighters in attendance, Gale Conrad suggested that if they are passionate about firefighting they can sign up to be a volunteer at one of the four department now providing coverage to the township — in Nanticoke, Plymouth Borough, Larksville and Lake Silkworth.

“I’m sure they would be appreciative of all your folks’ expertise,” Conrad said. “They are now our fire companies. Maybe you can do them good and us. If that is what your drive is, it would be a wonderful, commendable thing.”

Longtime firefighter Ron Deretchin shouted out, “But I live here.”

Conrad said the response time by the Nanticoke Fire Department — which has career, paid firefighters on duty at all times — to last week’s fire at the Flamingo Diner was an encouraging sign that the new set up is working.

She then read a letter the diner owner, Seana Warman, sent to the Nanticoke firefighters praising their rapid response.

“In getting the fire out quickly, you may have saved the building from totally being destroyed. Thank you and your crew for putting your lives on the line. I’m truly grateful you were there in three or four minutes. I can not thank you enough,” Conrad said, quoting Warman’s letter.

Township supervisors cite long response times and the department’s large debt as the reasons they chose to decertify the organization.

Fire Chief Barry Lore said Plymouth Twp. deserves its own fire department and relying on other towns for coverage won’t work and will risk lives.

“Who knows the fire service in this jurisdiction more than this guy standing here?” Lore said, challenging Conrad about who has more firefighting knowledge.

Lore accused the township of turning its back on the fire company, cutting off negotiations, despite their 70 years of service.

Conrad said the township worked with and tried to help prop up the fire company for five years and now it’s “time to move on.”

“The community should be wrapping their arms around their fire company, not excluding them,” Lore said. “We do this because we take pride in this town and we take pride in this community having its own services.”

Plymouth Twp. budgeted $30,000 this year to pay for fire services from the outside municipalities. The township has yet to get a bill from last week’s fire at the diner, Conrad said.

After the meeting, Lore was heard speaking with Larksville firefighters, saying the decision to decertify his department was due to “personal” disagreements.

“The taxpayers of this town helped pay for the equipment that’s sitting there in the station doing nothing,” Lore said.

After supervisors made the decision to decertify the fire company, Lore and another firefighter launched a write-in campaign for two spots on the three-member supervisors board. They lost.

The election results show voters had confidence that the board made the right decision, said township solicitor Jamie Mangan.

Mangan told residents that the debate about the future of the department is over.

“It’s not going to change,” Mangan said. “You have to accept this is the decision of the board and frankly the township because the election was held shortly thereafter.”

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©2020 The Citizens' Voice (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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