Westmoreland County, PA, Volunteer Fire Department Suspends Operation

Feb. 16, 2024
Hempfield's High Park Volunteer Fire Department responded to only one of 53 calls in the last three months of 2023.

Quincey Reese

The Tribune-Review, Greensburg


Feb. 14—Hempfield's High Park Volunteer Fire Department said it has suspended its services after nearly two years on probation, according to the station's Facebook page.

The department was placed on probation in June 2022 after the township said it had failed to respond to emergency calls. The station responded to just one of 53 emergency calls in the last three months of 2023, according to the township.

The station's regular financial support from the township — which is given to all of Hempfield's 11 fire stations to cover utility costs — has been suspended since the third quarter of 2023. The withholding was set to continue until the station worked with township fire Chief Anthony Kovacic to develop an official plan to improve response times.

Kovacic announced in January that High Park had to decide its fate by the next township meeting, set for Feb. 21. Its options were to merge with a neighboring fire station, go under township management or dissolve.

Township officials met with members of High Park on Jan. 8 to discuss the three options. This was the first response Hempfield received from High Park since the township sent a letter to the station in July, detailing its probationary status.

High Park said on its official Facebook account it is suspending service because the station has not been receiving its quarterly financial support from the township. The post also claims the township has treated the station unfairly and that Hempfield will try to shut down more stations and shift to a paid department model.

Among other claims, High Park said:

— The township did not buy the station a new large-diameter hose as it had requested.

— The township told High Park it needed to buy helmets of a new color but did not offer to help pay for them.

— Township fire officials pushed potential members away from joining High Park in favor of other stations.

Kovacic, township manager Aaron Siko and High Park Capt. John Howell did not return messages Wednesday.

Hempfield recently renewed its push to invite more stations to become nonchartered, meaning they would be financially supported and managed by the township.

Siko said the goal is to provide sufficient fire service across the township's 80 square miles.

"That's not to say that we're here to ... close anyone or shut them down," Siko told TribLive in January. "We're trying to form one Hempfield Fire Department."

Hempfield's West Point Volunteer Fire Department was on probation for more than two years because of the resignation or transfer of three members, including the chief, and a failure to respond to 81 calls in the first half of 2021.

Township supervisors voted to remove the probationary status in August after the station put together an improvement plan and recruited new members.

The township intends to host a forum with members from each of its fire stations to answer questions about the process of becoming nonchartered. It is tentatively scheduled for March.

High Park thanked community members for their support of the station.

"We are deeply saddened that we have to do this and have really enjoyed serving all of you and your families," the Facebook post said.


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