Pennsylvania Firefighters' Walkout Backed by Council

May 13, 2008
All active-duty volunteers of the Colwyn Fire Company walked out last week.

COLWYN, Penn. -- With the Colwyn Fire Co.'s service still suspended after a walkout by all active-duty volunteers last week, borough council came out in support of the firefighters Monday.

"We have 17 young men and women; they do an excellent job for Colwyn," said Council President Tonette Pray at a press conference in borough hall. "We can't allow for us to just throw away our young people."

The action comes in light of a dispute between active-duty and social members as well as an ongoing investigation by Pennsylvania State Police Liquor Control Enforcement. Officials also revealed that there is a separate effort by Delaware County's District Attorney's office to investigate a transfer of taxpayer funds to the company.

A majority of Colwyn's council stood beside Pray. They said they supported Chief Rich Guerra's position that social members should not be allowed to drink inside the fire house. Guerra and other active-duty members said they resigned because alcohol was served, and because poor treatment by social members was interfering with their fire fighting.

"Colwyn is a dry borough," said Pray.

Officials stopped short of saying council could force an end to the alcohol consumption, but said the borough officials could investigate.

"It is organized separately, but it does receive taxpayer funds," said Solicitor Ed Bradley.

The fire company received $42,000 in tax money last year, but has not yet disclosed how it was spent, according to officials.

"We are aware of two investigations by the District Attorney's office into transfer of funds before the current council was sworn in January," said Bradley.

Active members respond to fire calls, while social members do not. However, social members meet and consume alcohol in the firehouse, firefighters said.

LCE agents, responding to a complaint by borough officials of illegal alcohol sales, searched the firehouse May 8. However, State Police Sgt. William La Torre said agents found no supporting evidence. They did confiscate two illegal slot machines, about $2,000, and 9.7 liters of liquor purchased out of state, La Torre said. The investigation continues.

The fire company's board held a meeting simultaneously with Monday's press conference.

"What they're doing tonight is reorganizing the fire company," said council Vice President Daniel Betzala.

The outcome of the meeting was not known as of deadline.

Fire company Vice President F. Earl Reed, a former council president, responded to allegations May 8, saying social members support active volunteers. He said turnout gear, a fire truck and other equipment had been purchased with the help of social members. He said alcohol is not sold at the firehouse.

"It's funded through donations," said Reed.

Reed was unavailable for comment Monday.

A council meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Republished with permission of The Delco Daily Times>

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