Pennsylvania Fire Company Searches for Aid

PORT MATILDA -- Borough Council said Tuesday that it is setting up a meeting with officials in four surrounding municipalities to discuss ways to save the Port Matilda Fire Company from foreclosure.

But firefighters aren't waiting for the borough's help.

The company has scheduled a meeting for 7:30 tonight at the fire hall, where representatives will announce the creation of an independent board comprising seven residents that will oversee the fire company's finances, according to Lee Pressler, a Halfmoon Township resident who serves on a municipal task force designed to study fire protection.

Pressler said Tuesday he will be a member of the new panel, which will have representatives from each of the five municipalities served by the fire company -- Port Matilda and Halfmoon, Huston, Taylor and Worth townships.

"I think it will sink before (elected officials) get to the altar," Pressler said after Tuesday's Borough Council meeting. "We're going to get this set up and see if we can make this work."

Port Matilda officials, on the other hand, have not set a date for their meeting.

But under intense pressure from frustrated residents and Taylor Township Supervisor Lew Marrara, council members said the borough is accepting an offer from Halfmoon Township to help arrange the meeting.

"It's still up in the air," Borough Council President Kim Klingler said of the fire company's future. "We're still working with all the other municipalities to get something resolved. So that's where we're at."

Allegheny Valley Bank began proceedings earlier this month to foreclose on Port Matilda Fire Company's building and a truck because $94,000 due on loans had not been paid and put the company two months in arrears. So far, the bank has not threatened a deadline for repossessing the truck or the building, Port Matilda First Assistant Fire Chief Bryce Benner said.

"They haven't told us they're going to take the building," Benner said.

"We have been in contact with the bank trying to work things out."

At Tuesday's meeting, Benner and other residents demanded to know why council has not used $9,617 that was left from a now-idle partnership formed about eight years ago by the municipalities to help fund the fire department.

The partnership's contract expired at the end of 2004, and council members said they must hold a meeting with the member municipalities before deciding what to do with that money.

And Klingler said there is an $11,000 workers' compensation claim from the fire department that may have to be come from that fund, which the payment would drain.

But Benner countered that the money was given for fire protection, not for compensation claims.

"We still have no idea what's going on," Benner said. "Just more questions."

Marrara left the meeting early, and he said he left angry and more confused than before as to whether the fire company will survive.

"I feel like a mushroom left out in the dark," Marrara said. He added that Taylor Township residents are demanding answers about their fire department and that he cannot answer any of them.

Distributed by the Associated Press