Sparks Fly Over Fire Departments at North Buffalo Meeting

North Buffalo Township Supervisor Chair David Wolfe (right) asks questions of Worthington-West Franklin VFD line officers during last night’s public meeting – especially about a nearly-$3,000 Workers’ Compensation bill.

by Jonathan Weaver

A long-standing emergency service agreement between North Buffalo Township and Worthington-West Franklin Fire Association hangs in the balance of a few thousand dollars.

For about 35 years, Worthington-West Franklin has received more than $5,000 per year from North Buffalo – more than $2,740 in foreign fire funds and $2,500 for workmen compensation – for responding to emergencies in the northwest quadrant of the township.

During last night’s monthly supervisors meeting, Supervisor Chair Dave Wolfe publicly noted he would not pay the nearly-$3,000 in workman’s compensation until he found out about the agreement – causing firefighters to threaten not to service North Buffalo Township.

“(The bill) says (the fire department) represents 753 people in North Buffalo Township based on 3,011 residents. We don’t have 3,011 residents even though the census said that. We have a number of ‘For Sale’ properties, and the people moved already,” Wolfe said. “Plus, we have vacant property.

They’re saying they represent more people in our township than they do in their own!”

However, statistics Wolfe received from Armstrong 9-1-1 show Worthington-West Franklin only represents 103 households – an average of more than seven people per house.

“The numbers just don’t add up,” Wolfe said. “I’m not just going to pay money without these answers – this is taxpayers’ money we’re dealing with . No other fire department charges us for this…and they all represent us. It’s not fair to the other fire departments that we’re paying Worthington-West Franklin more.”

Worthington-West Franklin Assistant Fire Chief Fred Neal acknowledged there is not a written copy of the agreement, but the fire department still relies on the funds.

“There was at some point a calculation of the number of homes or residents. (Wolfe) is saying (North Buffalo) is paying us more than they should – we’re not disagreeing,” Assistant Chief Neal said. “We don’t know how they figured it out either.

“All we want to do is have a fair resolution to that and make sure we can put gas in our truck and buy the equipment we need. We do our best to cover our responsibilities and care for the people in that area and I think we do a good job.”

“You’re paying our bills,” Fire Captain Terry Smith said. “We don’t understand why there was a problem.”

Wolfe said each taxpayer in the quadrant would have to pay about $32 for the workman’s compensation bill – with tax collector – which he said may not be possible for retired and fixed-income residents.

Last year, North Buffalo Township received more nearly $16,500 in foreign fire relief aid from the State. It is distributed equally among the six fire departments that service North Buffalo Township – more than $2,740 each.

“Under the law, we must distribute that equally among the fire departments,” Wolfe explained.

Wolfe maintained his support of volunteer firefighters, especially since his father and brother both served in Ambridge Borough, through both donations and attending community fundraisers.

“All the firemen do a great job for us – every one of them at every fire department,” Wolfe said.

A representative from Worthington-West Franklin VFD and the three supervisors will meet in a closed-door meeting this Monday night to discuss and try to resolve the issue.

Wolfe even proposed a public hearing or a township-wide referendum

In addition to the insurance questions, fire chiefs will also meet with supervisors soon to discuss which fire department responds to.

East Franklin Township Fire Chief Mark Feeney saw the issue first-hand, when last week, a non-reportable accident near the Judge Graff Bridge brought rescue trucks and volunteers from six fire companies – including Applewold, East Franklin, Ford Cliff, Ford City, West Kittanning and Manor Township.

“We need to resolve this pretty fast,” Chief Feeney said. “We will have this one meeting, and whether some agree with it or not, when we leave that meeting that night, hopefully all eight fire chiefs are on the same page.

“By this time next month, I hope to have this resolved. This isn’t something we can sit on.”

Volunteer firefighters from Worthington-West Franklin and South Buffalo also respond to incidents in North Buffalo Township.

About 30 people, including representatives from local fire departments as well as residents, attended the North Buffalo Township public meeting last night.