SWOYERSVILLE — An assistant fire chief for the Swoyersville Volunteer Hose Co. 1 says that despite what borough officials think, the fire station is operating and seeking donations this year to get back on its feet.
Last week, borough officials said they were unsure if the fire company was operating because there had been no activity at the station and efforts to contact representatives were unsuccessful.
A flier began circulating the borough, soliciting donations for the 2013 operating year, and Councilman Chris Concert said he was unaware if the station was active after an alleged theft of bingo money in 2008.
Assistant Fire Chief Frank Hawk said Monday that after Carol Gamble, 51, and Catherine Drago, 82, were charged in 2008 with taking more than $700,000 in bingo proceeds, the department saw a decline in membership and did not have the manpower to continue operating.
“Things were going downhill, and we didn’t think it could be saved,” Hawk said. “But we didn’t want that to happen. Now, we’re trying to keep the fire department alive and serve the people of Swoyersville the best that we can.”
Hawk said in a letter to The Times Leader that the fire company cannot comment on the criminal charges pending against Gamble and Drago, but that the eight to 10 remaining members “hold faith that the legal trial will show that no money was taken by any member.”
Hawk said Gamble and Drago remain as officers of the hose company and the station has technically never stopped operating.
The company did not solicit for funding for the past two years because the station was not active enough because of a manpower shortage, Hawk said.
In July 2012, Hose Co. 1’s fire engine was put “on loan” to the West Wyoming Station 285 on Stites Street because that station’s engine experienced a mechanical problem with a ruptured tank and is undergoing repairs.
Hawk said the West Wyoming truck is being stored in Swoyersville while West Wyoming uses Hose Co. 1’s truck. That truck, Hawk said, has responded to 46 calls since July 2012.
“It’s a long process to get the truck repaired,” Hawk said. “West Wyoming isn’t dragging their feet.”
Hawk said the station is using state grant money to repair the truck while the Swoyersville Volunteer Hose Co. 1 also is using state grant money to get the station back up and running.
Hawk called the West Wyoming station Hose Co. 1’s “sister station” and noted many members of Hose Co. 1 belong to the West Wyoming Station 285.
Donations the station receives this year through its fundraiser will be put toward operating the hose company, Hawk said.
“We’ve got a good response from our ward,” Hawk said of the section of Swoyersville the hose company services.
A fundraiser run by the borough’s two other fire stations touts them as responding to 100 percent of the borough’s emergency calls, but that is not true, Hawk said.
“Last year, there were 110 calls total for the entire year for Swoyersville itself,” Hawk said, noting that his station has responded to 46 calls since July 2012 while being dispatched from the West Wyoming station. “They are playing childish games … instead of attempting to work together.”
Calls placed to fire chiefs of Swoyersville’s other two fire stations were not returned Monday.