RICE TWP. — Voting two to one, township supervisors officially decertified the township’s volunteer fire department Tuesday, handing first fire responsibility, and funding, over to Wright Township Volunteer Fire Department.
Apparently after one too many residents’ outbursts, Chairman Miller Stella Jr. asked police officers to clear the building, and the supervisors voted to a room occupied only by police and press.
Stella and supervisor George Venesky voted in favor of decertifying. Supervisor Marcia Thomas voted against it.
During the special meeting’s public comment period, all but one resident spoke against the ordinance, which is to reroute township funds, about $2,500 a month, to Wright Township as part of a seven-year contract.
Volunteers addressed many of the supervisors’ reasons for the decertification, reasons listed in the ordinance, saying they had brought the department’s delinquent bills up to speed and the members who started the problems have left. They said they have boosted their numbers with 23 on the roster and attend regular training.
Many offered solutions to keep the department on the books while they could come up with a solution.
Venesky said it’s been two and a half years of hearing the same story with no results. He said their protests arrive too late.
“Everybody wants to wait until the horse is out of the barn,” Venesky said. “And then you want to do something about it.”
Stella called the responsibility to protect the township a “brick on my chest,” and said he feels safer knowing Wright Township has the reins.
The Rice Township volunteer crew members stood along the back wall of the packed room. In solidarity, they wore their protective trousers and boots.
Fire Chief Paul Eyerman was absent from the meeting.
Thomas asked the supervisors to grant the department time to regionalize with Dorrance and Wright townships, which they have been talking about for months. Thomas asked, and several times it was suggested by audience members, if the board would table the vote to give people more time to learn about the issue and seek regionalization without pulling their department’s funding.
“Please give them the opportunity to safely make that transition,” Thomas said.
At the recommendation of D. Robert Brady, a Harrisburg official who advises fire departments, supervisors have not issued payment to their department for this calendar year and the department has operated solely on donations.
The property, equipment and trucks will still belong to the department, a separate entity; however, volunteers will no longer receive funds to taxes or bills.
Joan Alles, a resident, said her homeowner’s insurance is certain to go up because her official fire department is in a neighboring town.
John Rogers, another resident, said insurance rates are sure to rise but said he was most concerned about safety.
“Money’s not even an issue,” Rogers said. “It’s people’s lives at stake.”
Volunteer firefighter Joelle Brozoski asked Miller and Venesky if the problems are worth taking trained volunteers and equipment out of Mountain Top. She said Wright Township may have plenty of volunteers, but asked if they have enough equipment to aptly serve both towns.
Brozoski said she’s in favor of a merger with Wright Township, but the department needs the township’s support.
“We can’t help them if they don’t help us,” Brozoski said.