Pa. Fire Police Co. Quits Over Red Lights

Nov. 11, 2002
KUTZTOWN, Pa. -- All 11 members of the Kutztown fire police submitted resignations after their lieutenant was barred from using a flashing red light and siren on his vehicle.

Fire police volunteers said Kutztown Fire Company Chief Robert Hauck refused to allow newly appointed Lt. Gregory Heid to use the red light and siren, which indicates an emergency vehicle.

The fire police, who assist with traffic and crowd control at emergencies and special events, said they have been treated poorly by Hauck and other Kutztown firefighters for years.

"There have been instances when people felt slighted, ridiculed," said Dick Diehm, fire police captain. "I just got to the point where my head is softer than a brick wall."

Fire police respond to fires, accidents and other calls for service in the borough and surrounding municipalities served by the volunteer fire company. Their responsibilities generally focus on directing traffic around incidents.

Fire police are part of the fire company, but under command of police when they are working.

The disgruntled Kutztown fire police have already ceased answering fire and accident calls, but they will respond to police requests for assistance at events through Nov. 30.

"We volunteer," said Carol A. Fegely, a fire police member for 11/2 years. "But we didn't volunteer for the harassment and the abuse. He (Hauck) is rude. "

Hauck said that he believed the fire police quit for the wrong reasons and that a compromise could have been worked out.

"This will affect the company, and this will affect service in the police department at accidents and so forth," Hauck said of the resignations. "At this point in time, the fire company . . . is going to have to take care of the situations."

Additional fire personnel will be sent to each emergency to substitute for the fire police, Hauck said.

According to Diehm, a fire police captain and lieutenant are permitted by law to drive emergency vehicles with flashing red lights and sirens.

But Hauck said he has the authority to determine who uses a red light, and he claimed that the fire police misinterpreted the law. Diehm is the only fire police officer who has a red light on his vehicle.

According to Diehm, Hauck appointed Heid to the newly created lieutenant post, but the chief would not allow Heid to use a red light.

Hauck claimed that Heid drove too fast, Diehm said. Instead Heid has to use a blue light, which does not command the same respect on the road and does not give the driver the right to travel through red traffic signals.

Hauck would not comment on the details of the dispute.

Diehm stressed that the mass resignation was not a ploy to gain an advantage in the argument.

"All of us feel kind of bad about making this move," he said of the fire police. "There's a certain amount of satisfaction you get out of serving the public, but there comes a time when you have to say enough is enough."

Other fire police said that the only thing that would convince them to return to their positions would be Hauck's resignation and the appointment of a new fire chief.

"There's a joke going around that fire police are second-class citizens," Heid said. "We're not firefighters. We're only fire police."

But the fire police said they deserve better.

Most of them have served Kutztown for more than a decade, and four members have about 20 years of service. Many of them have logged more than 100 hours of training.

Kutztown police Chief Theodore R. Cole said he has recommended that borough council's personnel committee hire the fire police as community police officers.

"I am attempting to take the steps necessary to provide the services that we've always had," Cole said.

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