Fire Engine Fails To Respond in Pennsylvania

A McKinley Fire Co. firetruck was prevented from responding to a fire call July 13 after a personal argument prevented personnel from piloting the vehicle to a fire scene, a firefighter said.


A McKinley Fire Co. firetruck was prevented from responding to a fire call July 13 after a personal argument prevented personnel from piloting the vehicle to a fire scene, a firefighter said.

The incident, one of several events in the last week regarding McKinley, is the first occasion of record that the internal dispute has prevented firefighters from responding to a fire scene, perhaps escalating the severity of feuding among fire company factions. Firefighters were dispatched to Applebee's restaurant in Jenkintown Saturday for a report of a fire alarm. Michael Yerkes, the only firefighter able to drive the truck, said he was prevented from doing so. Yerkes said Henry Leary, a McKinley Fire Co. director, ordered him not to drive the truck because he opposes Chief David Leary, Henry Leary's son, in an ongoing internal dispute.

Yerkes tried to reason with Henry Leary, he said, but Henry Leary threatened to call police. Meanwhile, a McKinley captain drove to the fire scene in a personal vehicle and determined the call was a false alarm.

Henry Leary could not be reached for comment. Also, Kevin Lyons, a McKinley lieutenant, said he was recently suspended for six months. Lyons is the second officer to be removed from his post in a month after Assistant Chief Greg Breyer was demoted in June.

Lyons and Breyer both signed a letter last month asking David Leary and his wife, Carol, president of the fire company, to resign immediately. The official reason for Lyon's suspension was the presence of alcohol on his breath at a fire scene, Lyons said. But, he surmised his suspension had an alternative motivation.

Lyons is the president of the McKinley Relief Association, an entity with more then $700,000 in assets, he said. David Leary, in a letter to Lyons, said he was to step down as president of that organization because he is no longer a fire company member in good standing, Lyons said.

Since the township has withheld its $150,000 annual subsidy to McKinley to date, Lyons said he believes his suspension is an attempt by Leary to use relief association funds to operate the fire company. David Leary did not return calls for comment. Also, as expected, the Abington Board of Commissioners July 10 voted to begin the process of eliminating McKinley from the township's fire services.

The 15-member board was unanimous in its action. Last week at the public safety committee meting, board members voted 13-1 to take the same action. The vote instructed the township solicitor to draw a motion redistricting the township's five fire protection districts into four, eliminating McKinley's services altogether.

Commissioner Mike Gillespie voted against the measure at the committee level, but changed his mind last week to fashion the unanimous decision, saying he decided to join the rest of the board but he may change his mind again in the future. McKinley's district is the largest geographically of the five fire companies, but township Fire Marshal Ken Clark said the move would not drastically affect fire protection in that area.

The board's move is an attempt to force McKinley's leadership, namely Fire Chief David Leary and President Carol Leary, to step down, after a township report found problems with record-keeping. Commissioners are becoming increasingly fearful the public's safety could be jeopardized.