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Thorpe approves 25 firefighters but some not happy with new direction

Published November 14. 2017 02:14PM

The roster for Jim Thorpe Borough’s recently formed municipal fire department is beginning to take shape.

Borough council approved 25 firefighters to become members of the department in the last two months.

The decisions, however, haven’t sat well with some longtime Jim Thorpe firefighters.

“As of last Friday, virtually no firefighters are now authorized to respond from the east side station,” Chris Gunsser, of the Fairview Hose Company, posted on social media Sunday.

“In its creation of the municipal fire department, the borough made everyone reapply to be members of the municipal fire department. Many of us feel the applications are an insult, especially to those of us who have been in the fire service for decades and have many years of training and experience. There were even some long-standing members were so frustrated with the whole ordeal they did not reapply at all. Any loss of experienced, trained personnel is a significant loss.”

According to borough officials, however, the numbers tell a different story.

Firefighters approved so far by council include Jay Miller, Zach Miller, Vincent Yaich Jr., Kenneth McArdle Jr., Jarad Yeastedt, Greg Steward, Chuck Leinthall, Francis Lukasevich, Eric Cinicola, Thomas Lager, Gerald Nederostek, Robert Valusek, Michael Quigley, Bruce Solomon, William McDonald, Frank Lauth, Tyler Ketchledge, Joseph McArdle, Thomas Polischak, William Sheehan, Matthew Reppert, Dwayne Sterner, Dennis McGinley, James McGinley and Nicholas Shorten.

Of those firefighters, 14 live on the east side of Jim Thorpe, 10 on the west side and one in Franklin Township.

Thorpe officially created a municipal fire department in July, citing the need to have a greater oversight of finances and personnel decisions.

A month later, Bill Diehm and Vince Yaich were slotted as chief and assistant chief respectively.

Borough Manager Maureen Sterner said Monday afternoon that the borough’s emergency services committee has been reviewing membership applications as they get them.

Everyone who has been approved, she added, has been a past member of the fire department.

“Anyone who has not been appointed made unauthorized changed to the application process,” Sterner added.

Three fire companies currently remain in Jim Thorpe. Diligent Fire Company No. 3 is located on the west side of the Lehigh River, while the Phoenix Hose Company is now located with the Fairview Hose Company on the east side of town.

“We don’t designate the east side from the west side in the new ordinance so there is no target number of members from each side,” Sterner said. “In fact, there is no total target at this point. Everyone has been encouraged to apply. There is no cut off point.”

When it established the ordinance, council pointed to audit findings from the East Mauch Chunk Firemen’s Relief Fund, which included “noncompliance with prior audit recommendations concerning undocumented expenditures, failure to maintain a complete and accurate equipment roster and inadequate minutes of meetings.”

According to an audit released in August 2016, covering 2012-15, the association had $6,302 in undocumented expenses.

“Lack of documentation, such as invoices or detailed meeting minutes, make it impossible to determine if the expenditures were made in accordance with Act 118,” the audit states.

Fairview fire officials said the issues had been resolved.

Meanwhile, a 2008-09 audit of the Mauch Chunk Firemen’s Relief Fund, which covered the Diligent and Phoenix companies at the time, found that “officials failed to disclose related party transactions with relief association membership” and “the association should review its cash needs and investment goals to ensure its investments are allocated and diversified to prudently meet those needs and goals.”

According to that audit, the association conducted business with a local bank that employs a relief association officer.

“Ethics laws state that all potential related transactions should be disclosed to the membership and recorded in the minutes of relief association meetings,” according to the audit.

In a follow-up audit, released in 2014, the auditor general’s office noted that the association had “taken appropriate corrective action for the previous findings,” though it was “not able to confirm $160,040 of the association’s reported investment balance.”

Gunsser said he’s concerned a disparity in where members are responding from could compromise fire protection efforts in the borough.

“Fire and rescue operations are a labor and skill intensive service. Right now, Jim Thorpe is very short on those essential items,” he posted.

Sterner said the borough’s goal is to “see the fire department staffed as it has been in the past for the benefit of all residents.”

An agenda for Thursday’s council meeting, which starts at 6:30 p.m. at Memorial Hall, includes an item about the fire department.

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