The Andreas Fire Company has been suspended from active duty by the West Penn Township board of supervisors for a period of three months, effective immediately.
The supervisors suspended the volunteer fire company following a 45-minute closed executive session during their regular monthly meeting Monday evening.
"The executive session dealt with the Andreas Fire Company," announced supervisors' Chairman Alfonso Martinez. "We sent them a letter requesting certain information asked for by the township fire chief. Some of the material received was lacking."
Martinez then turned the floor over to attorney Gretchen D. Sterns, the township's solicitor, who detailed the township's allegations against the Andreas Fire Company.
"We asked them for specifics about financials to determine how their money was being spent," said Sterns. "There were also safety items such as equipment, training and inspections.
"Their fire chief remitted some of it, but a number of items were significantly deficient," she added.
On the financial side, Martinez told the TIMES NEWS after the meeting that the board was seeking an audit of the fire company's ledgers. What was received were copies of the company's bank statements that were certified by an accountant.
The suspension is considered temporary and the supervisors are giving the Andreas company until May 1 to address the board's concerns.
Until that time, the company has been removed from active duty. The Schuylkill County 911 Communications Center was notified by West Penn Police Chief Brian Johnson last night of the suspension so that the company will not be dispatched to fire scenes, accidents and other emergency situations.
The company is also expected to have its equipment, such as air packs, tested during the next three months, and its personnel is required to receive adequate training during that time.
"The township is looking to see substantial improvement in the level of training," said Sterns.
After May 1, the township will perform a follow-up review of the Andreas company. Sterns said the commonwealth's Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) provides such inspections on fire companies and can give townships a level of comfort on financial, training and equipment concerns.
"We are looking for DCED to provide third-party review," she stated.
Originally, Supervisor James Akins moved for the suspension, with a second from Vice Chairman David Zeigler, that included withdrawing the company's workman's compensation insurance.
Paul Breiner, a former fire chief with the Andreas Fire Company, who said he is no longer an officer of the company, warned that if the board wants the volunteers to get additional training, they might not be able to do so without being covered by workman's compensation.
"I think they will need it," said West Penn Fire Chief Leroy Breiner. "You can make exceptions just for training."
Akins amended his original motion to include providing the workman's compensation coverage only for training purposes, which was acceptable to the board.
Resident Michael Warivonchik asked how the suspension of the Andreas company would affect fire coverage in the township, particularly on its eastern side.
"It will not affect the township because we are centrally located," said Breiner, referring to the West Penn Fire Company No. 1, which is located just off Route 309 on Municipal Road.
There were members of the Andreas company present at the meeting who met with the board but did not offer public comment regarding the suspension.
At one time, the Andreas Fire Company was the lone volunteer firefighting unit in the township until some of its members split off from it and formed West Penn Fire Company, with the township designating the latter its primary responder.
The acrimonious split resulted in legal battles between the former and the township which produced a settlement.
Breiner told the TIMES NEWS that the Andreas company currently has about 15 members, including those with junior status and others who live outside the township.
By contrast, West Penn Fire Company has about 30 active members, he noted.
In November, the supervisors did not disburse state fireman's relief funds to the Andreas company, citing the Second Class Township Code requirement that certain financial information be submitted before the money could be allocated.