Pa. Firefighters Vow to Improve Communications

Aug. 07--The meeting began with a series of complaints from elected officials about the leadership of the Western Berks Fire Department.

"When you have the majority of elected officials in concert not supporting the chief, not supporting his goals, it's time for the chief to go," said Stephen Price, Wernersville Borough Council president.

But by the end of night, officials from the four municipalities the department serves said they wanted to work with the Fire Chief Kevin Kulp to make things better.

"This is a business," said Sinking Spring Mayor Gary Cirulli. "We need to sit down and discuss things. Our communication from the board is lacking because we're not sitting down with the chief and discussing anything."

Representatives from the municipalities -- Lower Heidelberg and South Heidelberg townships, and Sinking Spring and Wernersville boroughs -- gathered Wednesday to air their concerns about the fire department.

Among the concerns: lack of communication, reported misuse of department vehicles and control of fire company funds.

The situation has been simmering for months, but only recently came to the attention of the municipalities.

Lower Heidelberg Supervisor Cheryl L. Johnson said that there was a communication breakdown with the chief.

Johnson said she has had questions about changes to the department's personnel and other issues with department policies, oversight and management.

Another concern is reports of the department's station vehicles being spotted outside of its coverage area.

"You have to remember that it's not your personal property," Johnson said. "You can't be driving to the grocery store, or have your kids in it. If they are not fire company members, something happens, that comes back to us."

South Heidelberg Supervisor Richard Hummel echoed Johnson's concerns.

"He thinks he's the boss," Hummel said of Kulp. "It's his way or no way."

Despite the criticism, Kulp said he believed the meeting could be a good first step for both sides.

He said the issue about the department's vehicles had been corrected.

While the department might have some "rough edges," Kulp said response times within its coverage area are superlative.

"I would welcome clarity," Kulp said. "That's the perfect world for me. Right now the lines have blurred so heavily I'm not quite sure what my job is."

The elected officials talked about the department's overseeing board of trustees, which includes four elected officials from each municipality, four members of the fire department and Fire Commissioner Jeffrey S. Weidner.

The elected officials said they wanted to create a system that would allow them to have more control over the financial and administrative side of the department.

Price said the department board needed to get together and begin deciding how it wants to move ahead with those changes.

Firefighter Mike Palm said he wanted to see compromise from everyone involved.

"It's one department," Palm said. "It's sides right now instead of a department.

"Nothing is going to change until there is compromise on both sides."

Contact Matthew Nojiri: 610-371-5062 or mnojiri@readingeagle.com.

Copyright 2014 - Reading Eagle, Pa.

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