NBC10Philadelphia.com - Denise Nakano
The Union Volunteer Fire Company in Bensalem Township was shut down for the second time in a little more than a year. Township officials defended their decision to close the station during a community meeting Wednesday night. Bensalem Township's mayor says lack of leadership, poor response times and a purchase of a $1 Million boat are some of the reasons for the suspension.
A high powered jet boat may partially be to blame for the shutdown of a local firehouse.
For the second time in a little over a year, Public Safety Director Fred Harran has suspended operations at the Bensalem Union Fire Company. Harran says he shut the company down on Tuesday due to volunteer crews taking too long to respond to fires.
“If there is a fire I want a firefighter getting to the fire to put it out,” said Harran. “I have the stats. The stats don’t lie.”
Harran claims many of the union’s 18 members live and work outside of Bensalem, making it difficult for them to quickly respond to the fires. The fire department says this information is all new to them however.
“The public safety director’s actions have shocked us,” said Steve Carmichael, the President of the Union Fire Department.
Harran tells NBC10 he wants the department leadership ousted, new members recruited and response times to be faster. He also says the department needs to put a $1 million boat out of service.
“They weren’t actively recruiting members because they didn’t have the funding to get the equipment for those new firefighters,” said Harran. “But you have money for a boat.”
Harran says the boat was paid for in part by federal grant money. He also claims however $250,000 came from department coffers. Harran tells NBC10 90% of department funding comes from taxpayers and if firefighters are on the boat in the Delaware River, they won’t make it to fire calls in their own area. NBC10 asked Carmichael about Harran’s claims regarding the boat.
“I have not received the oversight committee’s report,” said Carmichael. “I don’t know what the underlying issues are.”
Local residents fear they’re no longer safe with the fire department shut down.
“They are putting this neighborhood at risk,” said Chuck Lerman.
The Fire Chief tells NBC10 the boat is being stored in an undisclosed location.
Bensalem Township officials released the following statement regarding their decision:
The Bensalem Township Department of Public Safety announces the suspension of operations for the Union Fire Company, 2067 State Rd., Bensalem.
The suspension of the operations will in no way impact public safety. The Township has already reassigned other authorized fire companies to provide coverage to those areas previously covered by the Union Fire Company.
The decision to suspend operations of Union Fire Company was not the result of an isolated incident, but rather a culmination of numerous incidents and issues over the past 30 months wherein the leadership of Union Fire Company has failed to follow both administrative and operational directions from the Township, resulting in a loss of confidence in the leadership of Union Fire Company.
It must be stressed that the majority of the volunteer fire fighters of Union Fire Company are loyal and dedicated individuals, and this unfortunate but necessary action by the Township should not negatively reflect on them.
A public community meeting on the suspension took place tonight at 7 p.m. where things got heated. Some Bensalem residents showed support for the township while others rallied behind the firefighters.
"I'm going to tell you that I think this is a personal thing and this is politics," said Bensalem resident Michelle Recupido. "And my safety, I can't deal with politics."
During the meeting, Harran laid out photos showing firefighters on their fire boat during recent events on the river. Firefighters say it was all part of their training exercises.
"It's a thank you, it's respect," said Union firefighter Greg Brown. "It's training also. It's training time on the boat."
Residents say they're looking for an end to the dispute.
"We can't keep going like this over and over again," said Bensalem resident Florence Baker. "If they're wrong, they're wrong. If they need to be closed then they need to be closed."
"I am proud of every one of the men and women of this fire company," said Carmichael. "I do not believe we deserve to be treated the way we were."
Both sides say they're working together to reopen the fire company. Certain conditions need to be met for an agreement to be reached however, including the decommissioning of the fire boat and a change in leadership. Until that happens, the fire company will remain closed.