By Michael DiVittorio – Trib Total Media
North Versailles Township commissioners on Thursday approved a new policy for their three volunteer fire departments while a standing-room-only crowd filled the commissioners’ chambers and fire trucks capped the parking lot like bookends.
Many in attendance spoke before the policy was adopted by a 5-2 vote.
Board president George Thompson, vice president Frank Bivins and commissioners Sam Juliano, Russell Saula and Vince Paradine voted in favor. Commissioners George Beswick and Daryl Mitchell dissented.
Mitchell said there were some changes from a previous draft that weren’t clarified, and he wanted more training requirements for firefighters.
“The more training that’s involved, the safer you’re going to be,” Mitchell said. “The least you know can jeopardize your safety.”
Beswick had similar concerns about not mandating more training, as well as allowing firefighters with criminal misdemeanors on their record to continue to serve the township.
“They took all the safety out of it,” Beswick said. “This board doesn’t care about the safety of the township.”
Beswick posted a version of the policy on georgebeswick.com that was revised by other township officials before the board approved it for advertising on July 17.
Thompson disagreed with Beswick’s assessment of the revised policy.
“We’re all about public safety,” Thompson said.
Resident Sandy Hillgartner said her son is a volunteer firefighter in Dravosburg, and she cares about safety and training.
“When my house catches on fire, I don’t want someone who has ‘Fireman 101: How to blow a match out’ coming to my house to save my home and possibly save my life,” Hillgartner said. “I don’t want to see you lowering standards in any way, shape or form.”
Thompson said the policy requires that training meets state standards for firefighters.
“Once we do get it established we can tweak it,” Thompson said.
Thompson said the policy is necessary to force the fire departments to work together. He said several times that Fire Department of North Versailles has not wanted to work with Crestas and West Wilmerding departments. He said in responding to a fire at his neighbor’s house, Fire Department of North Versailles called for assistance by mutual aid companies and not Crestas or West Wilmerding.
“They will be working together; so when there’s a fire in North Versailles Township, all three of these fire departments will be there,” Thompson said.
Crestas fire Chief Bernard Furby assured residents that his department is well trained and willing to work with all departments.
“When you mix politics and stupidity it makes for a bad disaster for a fire policy,” Furby said. “I have no ulterior motives. If I have to start worrying about who’s right and who’s wrong, then I will step away from this job.”
Resident Beverly Manz said she has asked for cooperation from the three fire departments for 18 months, and thanked the commissioners for taking action.
“Tonight this board took a stand to stop the nonsense,” Juliano said.
Solicitor Greg Evashavik said the policy requires all fire departments to maintain accurate and comprehensive records of personnel, equipment, contact information and other items. Copies of those records must be provided to the township.
Any person found to have a felony going back five years or a child abuse record shall be barred from serving as a firefighter in the township. Personal identification cards are required.
The policy can be reviewed at the township office at 1401 Greensburg Ave.
Commissioners dismissed rumors that the Green Valley fire station along Oakhurst Drive is closing. Green Valley merged with the Fire Department of North Versailles in 1999.
The rumors were fueled by a letter sent to residents by the Fire Department of North Versailles, which states the fire protection policy would eliminate the station, and the policy would reduce criminal background checks done on firefighters.
Thompson said the policy still requires background checks, and the Green Valley station is not closing.