ANDREW LEIBENGUTH/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS Tamaqua Volunteer Fire Police stand with a large array of their gear. Pictured from left are Tamaqua Fire Police Lt. Brent Confer, member Steve Bower Jr., Vice President William Sommers, member Dawn Kashmer, secretary Ed Sassaman, Capt. Robert Schlorf, member Ed Kashmer, and Chief Engineer Jack Bowman.
Fire Police units throughout our area routinely respond to emergencies and disasters. Their constant diligence and dedication are commonly overlooked by most people, even though they frequently arrive before and leave after most emergencies.
Responsibilities of fire police range from traffic control, scene safety, scene preservation, crowd control and liaison, scene security, police assistance, and logistics in some cases.
Controlling the progression of vehicles around or through the proximal vicinity of an emergency is very important. This may entail road closures, diversions, full control of intersections or 'one-way-shunts' where the road is impaired to one lane and the movement is alternated in a controlled manner. Fire police control the flow of traffic to ensure emergency vehicles have a quick, safe entrance and egress to an incident. They may halt traffic or detour traffic because of the situation and the dangers involved. They take orders from the police authority in charge.
Fire police are exercised to assist in ensuring that the scene of an incident is sound for those working in the vicinity. This includes both firefighters and other emergency service workers, as well as members of the public.
Residents, occupants, relatives, transients, spectators, and the media are among those who may approach the scene of an incident. Fire police are in a position to prohibit them from coming into harm, or from hampering the work of emergency services at the scene. They are often the initial point of contact and as such must have worthy public relations skills.
Fire police can also administer a logistics resource, such as vehicle movements, communications or similar.
Fire police in Pennsylvania are volunteer fire company members, usually sworn in by the mayor or borough council president, township supervisor or the local district. They normally come under direct control of the local police or state police (if no local department is available).
The first fire police officers in the state of Pennsylvania were established in Meadville in 1896. In the past, fire police officers had insufficient authority, other than that which could be rendered by their fire company and local municipality in which they served. No legal acknowledgment or right was conveyed to special fire police officers in Pennsylvania until the 1940s.
The state in June 1941 passed a law allowing special fire police officers to have the essential police ability to provide protection. Fire Police were officially created to respond in emergency situations and then only when their fire department was involved.
New fire police rules and policies change and widen the scope of jurisdiction of the fire police. In 1949 the law was changed to give fire police authority to act without fire company involvement, providing a desire to do so was made by the municipality. In 1959 the law was again amended to allow fire police to use their police powers in any (non-emergency) public activity conducted by or under the control of any volunteer fire company. These services were dependent upon a request by the municipality. The stipulation for municipal request for such services, when the fire company was involved, was later removed from the law.
The stipulation to allow fire police to use their police power in non-emergency events was later amended to authorize these officers to implement police services for organizations other than a volunteer fire company. For fire police to perform this type of duty, a request is required.
These improvements broadened the field of authority of fire police in Pennsylvania to have defined police powers. Although they have no real authority to make arrests, they do have the right to restrain or hold someone, within reason.
All fire police officers are asserted officers of the law and are subject to control of the chief of police of the city, borough, town or township in which they are serving, or if none, of a member of the Pennsylvania State Police.
Not listening to a fire police officer is the same as disobeying a police officer, sheriff's deputy, state constable or state trooper; and assaulting one is a felony.
Although fire police are not on the front lines in an emergency, their roles are vital and essential to the mission and emergency at hand.