Fire Dept. Flap Gets Hotter in Chambersburg

Reprinted from
By Samantha Cossick, Staff writer
November 21, 2011

As career firefighters express dissatisfaction with Chambersburg Borough’s proposed staffing cuts, renewed focus on a mandate regarding union members and volunteers has come to the forefront and added to the furor.

Franklin Fire Company, the volunteer company that provides backup to borough’s fire department, posted a statement recently on its website calling for an end to the “harassment of our members” as they continue to protect lives regardless of where people live.

“We’re kind of trying to refuse to get in the middle of any of this,” Franklin Fire Chief Mark Trace told Public Opinion. “We’re using that statement as our position.”

The statement written by Trace and President James Hull appeared in reaction to the proposed personnel cuts to the Chambersburg Fire Department. The cuts are proposed for the borough’s 2012 tentative budget.

In the statement, Trace and Hull said they have refused all requests to meet with borough officials until after the budget was made public, so as not to interfere with borough council’s decision.

However, they also wrote that they do not support a reduction of manpower to any fire department.

“We don’t want to get in the middle of anything that’s going on between the union local and the borough council,” Trace told Public Opinion. “It’s not our argument. It’s not our fight. We’re here to serve the citizens.”

Franklin Fire Company has provided services to the borough of Chambersburg for more than 20 years through a mutual aid agreement, according to the statement.
Recent attention on an existing union rule also addresses the availability of union firefighters, though it is not tied to Chambersburg’s budget.

According to the bylaws of the International Association of Fire Fighters, career firefighters who are members of IAFF cannot volunteer within another affiliate’s work jurisdiction, in this case the borough, Martin said.

“These are tough economic times for everyone and we wish Local 1813 the best of luck in this fight; however, the members of the Franklin Fire Company cannot and will not let the citizens of Chambersburg suffer by reducing our staffing as requested by IAFF Local 1813 President Pat Martin,” according to the statement.

“Regarding their statement of reducing their staffing, we merely asked IAFF members to adhere to the constitutional bylaws of the International Association of Fire Fighters, which would prohibit them from volunteering within another IAFF local affiliations work jurisdiction,” Martin said.

Many volunteer firefighters in Chambersburg are also career firefighters in places such as Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Alexandria, Va. where they can become members of IAFF.

Non-IAFF members can volunteer within the borough; however, IAFF members can only volunteer within the townships, Martin said.

Martin said he was unsure “specifically” how many members of the Franklin Fire Company were members of IAFF.

“I appreciate the service that they provide but, at the same time, the International Association of Fire Fighters does have constitutional bylaws they have to abide by,” said Art Martynuska, president of the Pennsylvania Professional Fire Fighters Association. “The rules are put in place for a reason. Certainly folks that are violating our constitutional bylaws aren’t going to help the situation.”

An IAFF member found violating the constitution can be brought up with internal charges resulting in the possible suspension or termination of their membership benefits, which include legal assistance and educational opportunities, Martynuska said.

Both Martin and Martynuska said they have no knowledge of any harassment, which they would be protected from through the constitution.

The Chambersburg Fire Department serves within the corporate boundaries of the Borough of Chambersburg. It is not the primary force in the surrounding townships, which are covered by a combination of volunteer fire companies, including the Franklin Fire Company, said Jeffrey Stonehill, Chambersburg borough manager, in an e-mail.

The proposed elimination of eight firefighters from the Chambersburg Fire Department would have “little to no effect” on any resident or business in townships covered by volunteer forces, he said.

Additionally, funding for the department comes only from taxes and fees collected on borough households and businesses, not the surrounding townships, Stonehill said.

Franklin Fire Company is chartered by and located in the borough and receives some assistance from the borough, including payment of workers’ compensation insurance premiums and some fuel expenses, he said.

“In exchange, The Franklins provide support to the Chambersburg Fire Department inside the borough limits,” Stonehill said.