Jim Thorpe Mayor: Glen Onoko caught up in political battle
Jim Thorpe’s mayor says the governor’s recent stop at Glen Onoko Falls to promote a proposed tax on the state’s natural gas industry was disrespectful to first responders.
Meanwhile, council members are wondering if it is safe to keep sending firefighters up for rescues on a trail that the Pennsylvania Game Commission says is unsafe for hikers.
Mayor Michael Sofranko didn’t hold back his criticism for Gov. Tom Wolf during Thursday night’s workshop meeting. He said Wolf is ‘holding firefighters’ lives hostage by saying he will only fix the falls if the $4.5 billion Restore Pennsylvania legislation is passed.
“Our firemen, our police, our first responders, in this county are far too important than to lay their lives on a tax of the (Marcellus) shale. If you want to fight your battles, fight them in Harrisburg,” he said.
Councilman John McGuire used the word blackmail to describe the governor’s statement that he would fix the falls if legislators pass his proposed tax on the state’s natural gas industry.
Council agreed that the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s decision to close the trail hasn’t eliminated the need for local firefighters to climb the Glen for rescues.
Councilman Jay Miller, who also serves as a volunteer firefighter in the borough, described the most recent rescue at the Glen, which occurred on Sunday. He said 30 firefighters from five different departments spent about three hours on the call. The firefighters had to use ropes to safely remove a woman who had been injured on the trail.
“The whole area up there continues to erode and continues to be more dangerous. It’s very dangerous for a first responder up there,” he said.
Miller said that the woman they rescued ended up refusing treatment from the first responders, despite someone in her party calling 911 and requesting a rescue.
McGuire said he’s frustrated that the fire department has been unable to send rescued people a bill for the expenses involved with reaching them on the falls trail.
“I think if they’re doing it illegally, we should sue them,” McGuire said.
Council President Greg Strubinger wondered if it is safe for firefighters to continue to respond to the Glen, considering the state has said it is unsafe for hikers.
“We know this is dangerous for our volunteers. Shouldn’t we be saying: we don’t want you to go into these calls?” Strubinger said.
Miller said that firefighters volunteer to respond to calls — there’s no requirement to go. And he said the first responders still have a good attitude about responding, for now.
“I’m here to say it is not our job to continually go to repetitive calls, and that’s what these are. These are repetitive, ignorant stupidity calls,” Miller said.
Miller stated he is worried that a firefighter will be hurt while responding to a rescue at the Glen.
Miller said he will continue to respond to the calls. He said it would be a different story if the game commission wasn’t citing the hikers.
He said he was told by the Game Commission that they would cite the victim in last week’s rescue for hiking the closed trail.
Miller ultimately urged the state to take responsibility for the trail. He pointed out that the trail itself is located in Lehigh Township, but Jim Thorpe Fire Department responds to the calls because they are the closest to the Glen Onoko parking area.
He said when he heard the governor was visiting Glen Onoko, he expected him to have a solution to the problem.
Mayor Sofranko said he has heard promises that taxpayers would receive relief from casino gambling, and a tax on gasoline to fund roads.
“The reality is the firefighters, first responders, and everyone who wants to hike there — the governor is holding those lives hostage to a tax,” Sofranko said. “Don’t start playing those political games with people’s lives.”