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West End Fire Co. Says Council Compromised Safety of Residents

In an open letter, the fire co. said the borough's ability to respond to a fire has been seriously diminished in recent years.

Citing dissatisfaction with the West End Fire Company’s EMS service, the Phoenixville Borough Council voted unanimously at its October 9 meeting to begin taking bids for a new provider. The council left the door open for West End to retain its contract—councilmember David Gautreau indicated the company’s bid, should they submit one, would be considered—but the impression was left that the borough would seek to replace the company, as Spring City had done.

 In response to the council’s decision, the company’s board of directors submitted a 1,600 word open letter to Phoenixville Patch on October 23. In this response, the company called the council’s charge that the borough was without adequate coverage on Labor Day “misleading,” accused outgoing Phoenixville fire chief James Gable of “aggressively” attempting to physically remove equipment from its premises, and said the council’s actions threaten the safety of borough residents.

The letter is printed in full below and attached as a PDF to this article:


 

West End Fire Co. #3 would like to provide a brief history and response to recent events and statements made regarding our standing as the Emergency Medical Services provider for the borough of Phoenixville.

West End Fire Co #3 was established in October, 1906 in response to a disastrous fire at the Perseverance Knitting Mill. Since that time our company has provided fire fighting service to the Borough of Phoenixville and surrounding communities of Chester and Montgomery Counties.

We began providing ambulance service in the 1920s with an ambulance provided by Phoenixville Hospital which was housed in our station on West Bridge St., and have continued to the present time with 5 ambulances now in our fleet and a sub-station in East Vincent Township.

The company is organized as a non-profit corporation and has been completely self-sufficient in the funding of these community services through the income of its ambulance service and substantial donations from the West End Social Association.

We also gratefully receive support from local residents who subscribe to our Ambulance Fund, which was started in the 1940s. The Borough has also provided some funding to help offset rising costs. The Phoenixville Volunteer Fireman’s Relief Association has supplied monies to purchase needed equipment and there are numerous grants that are available through applications.

We are governed by a volunteer Board of Directors and our company membership who are the shareholders and owners of West End Fire Co.#3. We are also regulated by Pennsylvania State Incorporation law, our founding Charter and the by-laws of West End Fire Co. #3.

In recent history, the Phoenixville Fire Department proposed a consolidation of Phoenix Hose, Hook and Ladder Co. #1, Friendship Fire Company, and West End Fire Co. #3. Consolidation of fire companies has been a way of combining and conserving resources to counteract the ever-increasing costs of providing fire service and the decreasing volunteerism that affects many fire companies today. A published state manual provides specific guidelines for consolidating, the process of forming a steering committee and the formation of a community-based Board of Directors. West End sent representatives to the consolidation meetings and watched with growing concerns as the steering committee formulated its recommendations for consolidation. In September of 2010 this summary of findings was published without the full support of the steering committee or West End representatives. Instead of a
combination and formation of a new fire department as outlined in the manual, Phoenix Hose, Hook and Ladder Co. #1 and borough council would determine the formation of the new board. At this time, West End withdrew from the voluntary consolidation process that, to all intents and purposes, had become what appeared to be a takeover of resources and not the proposed and mutually agreed upon consolidation.

Since that time, West End has presented questions to the council and Chief Gable regarding its future in the borough and use of our company resources resulting from the consolidation. Our concerns regarding the disposal of our physical and financial resources were answered by Fire Chief Gable and Councilman Gautreau in person at one of our monthly Board of Directors meetings. We were assured at that time that we would continue as a fire service provider and were under no threat from the consolidation or the borough.

Despite those assurances, West End received a letter in December of 2011 from Jean Krack, borough manager, confirming the consolidation of the fire companies, with West End remaining a fully volunteer organization, but only allowed to provide Emergency Medical Services to the borough. We were informed that the borough was withdrawing our funding of $70,000.00 for 2012. (the fire protection budget for 2012 is $497,000.00) and a demand that West End Social Association contribute $2500.00 per month to the borough. This amounted to over $100,000 in total loss of resources for West End. Our social association’s primary responsibility is to help fund our ambulance service and it also regularly contributes to local charities and non-profit organizations, school functions and community events that submit requests. It would consider requests made for donations to Phoenix Hose, Hook and Ladder Co.#1. It is under no legal obligation to contribute to borough coffers.

At the present time West End has had its running cards pulled and is no longer allowed to deploy its firetruck. We have been limited to Emergency Medical Service response only.

West End has also worked to address previous management deficits by conducting a search for a new ALS coordinator. We found a well-qualified and experienced candidate in Mr. Sigismonti. We have indicated our desire to hire him, but under the threat of the loss of Phoenixville Borough EMS service,he cannot leave his current job for uncertain future employment with West End. He has agreed however, to oversee our EMS operations on a volunteer basis and has been given the authority by the Board of Directors to make the necessary changes that are required to assure continued quality in ourservice.

Councilman Gautreau’s statement that Phoenixville borough was ‘almost without coverage’ over the Labor Day weekend is deliberately misleading. Yes, West End did have several unexpected employee call-offs that weekend. To counteract that event, West End management immediately hired qualified EMS medics from outside ambulance companies to cover staffing. At no time was coverage an issue, or were any calls missed that weekend due to understaffing.

Mr. Gautreau also mentioned the fact that Spring City recently installed Friendship Ambulance in place of West End. This was done with no public discussion by Spring City council and because Friendship Ambulance offered to pay Spring City a fee for becoming their ambulance provider. The West End EMS management office has received numerous phone calls from Spring City residents expressing their concerns over this change in service providers.

Also, West End has no issue with returning any equipment in our possession that is the property of the Phoenixville Volunteer Fire fighters Relief Association (not Phoenix Hose, Hook and Ladder Co. #1 or the borough). When we received a property inventory list, it was submitted to our lawyer for the review process. Fire Chief Gable was informed of this during an aggressive ‘visit’ when he entered our station on October 3, 2012 without notice and attempted to physically remove equipment from our premises. He did this despite warnings from Phoenixville Chief of Police William Mossman that his actions were not legal. When his first entry was rebuffed he returned later the same day with ‘reinforcements’ and again tried to take equipment, but was prevented by West End employees. There is a protocol in place for this type of situation which was not followed. At this time West End has declined to press charges against Mr. Gable.

Considering that Councilman Speck is a firefighter and member of Phoenix Hose, Hook and Ladder #1, we can only hope that this was done without his knowledge, Councilman Gautreau’s, or the knowledge of any member of borough council.

Because of the obvious ties between borough council and Phoenix #1, West End believes that this incident prompted Phoenixville Borough council to act in a retaliatory and punitive manner with regards to replacing West End Ambulance as its EMS provider. Within the last year council affirmed our EMS provider status by a resolution. Today they say we are unable to provide quality service. We disagree. West End EMS has provided years of dedicated and professional service to Phoenixville and the surrounding areas. We answer thousands of calls annually and would like to express our continued commitment to adjust, adapt and upgrade our service according to professional standards and the needs of the community.

In closing, West End Fire Co. #3 respectfully requests that the residents of Phoenixville Borough look to the end results of the leadership of Fire Chief Gable, with the support of Councilman Gautreau, Councilman Speck and borough council. When Mr. Gable became fire chief, Phoenixville had three robust firefighting companies that were able to respond to calls at a moment’s notice 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Now there is only one. Friendship Fire Co., which experienced their own difficulties with the borough, provides only Dive and Rescue services. West End now can only provide EMS. With an ever-growing population, Phoenixville’s reduced fire response capabilities are even more troubling. Without the dedicated fire responders from companies from surrounding communities, including Valley Forge, Kimberton, and Mont Clare/Oaks, the borough’s ability to provide fire service has been seriously compromised in the last decade.

Now they have turned their attention to West End Emergency Services. In council’s single-minded pursuit of new sources of funding, they have proposed putting ambulance service out to bid. Has the safety and health of the residents of Phoenixville Borough and surrounding communities been put at risk by council’s most recent proposal? Has the livelihood of nearly 40 dedicated employees been put at
risk? Has the existence of a 100+ year old community service organization been put at risk? West End’s overwhelming and logical conclusion is yes.

Whether you agree or disagree with council’s decision, West End believes that the you, the residents who are affected by that decision, should have the ultimate say in their your own welfare. Your elected officials are answerable to the public will, and at no time in West End’s history has the need for your involvement been more vital.

Thank you,
The Board of Directors
West End Fire Co. #3

The truth will set you free October 26, 2012 at 12:05 PM
In regards to Big AL's statement, I will tell you for a fact that "chief Gables girlfriend" wasn't even scheduled to work the weekend in question. On top of that she actually worked Labor Day herself. So before you make another ill informed post, check the facts.
Cricket October 26, 2012 at 12:33 PM
Do you have a source for this information?
Move on October 26, 2012 at 12:33 PM
Big Al - Nice how people seem to feel free to throw people under the damn bus - what is difference if she worked or not - wanna start throwning people under bus start with John H - which is no longer there he was let go and brought back hmmmm interesting - maybe they should be looking into how John H got all his high priced items he has - ie - boat - jet skis - when his wife hadnt worked - I guess when you hadnt got caught elsewhere how would you get caught at West End. He shouldnt even still have his medic license.
Cricket October 26, 2012 at 12:38 PM
Mod, you seem to be trying to discredit the situations when people have found their experiences with West End to be positive by using the same methods. Satisfaction and customer service for any business can not be measured by a few individuals, regardless if their experiences are positive or negative.
Cricket October 26, 2012 at 12:44 PM
Mod, after reading your lengthy replies, I have to wonder your overall involvement in the situation. If your facts are true (or close to it), then it would mean you've either been paying very close attention the boroughs activities or, more likely, you are involved with the situation in one way or another. Though it would help give your statements credit, I have a feeling you won't be interested in revealing who you are. So, I ask that you provide some sources for these allegations.
Cricket October 26, 2012 at 12:48 PM
If you take the article at face value, the legal channels for returning any equipment that West End <i>may</i> have was not followed. If the council had legal recourse to do so, those items would have been removed.
Robert J October 26, 2012 at 12:50 PM
Here is my point about the east Vincent station coming in to phoenixville borough or this case schuylkill township. I dont know what the reason of source was nor rather not tell but what if there was a heart attack or something or some thing really serious that they need an ambulance like 8 minutes then **28** minutes. That right there is poor response time and should not be tolerated. Who ever the EMS provider is but when you hear trappe coming this way see how far they are and the dispatch time is about 2 minutes in delay and they still can beat west end to the call and provide care to the patient before west end show up some of the days
Mike October 26, 2012 at 12:53 PM
You know what folks ? There is one fact here that is most important and that is there should be 2 fire companies (at minimum) due to growth in the area. Council is playing Russian Roulette . Put Station 67 West End back on fire calls and stop the silly stuff of looking for another EMS provider. I am embarrassed to be a resident of the area with the way council is behaving,let me say I have been embarrassed before by their actions. Grow up you knuckleheads down at borough council and think of the big picture and not your personal vendettas. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh !!
Robert J October 26, 2012 at 01:05 PM
ok look ill come out and say Im a Volunteer doesn't matter where its VOLUNTEERing who the fuck cares what we wear if you have a problem with it how bout you get your ass off the coach and become a member and run for Fire Chief and see what it is like it was on a friday at 430pm. i was at that call we don't have to wear our class b uniforms to every single fire call we run 350 or around that area calls a year we been averaging 2 to 3 calls a day in the month of october so unless your gonna do the laundry of the firefighters that volunteer how about you think before you start commenting on what they wear and the FIRE CHIEF officers are to be out side of the building running COMMAND google COMMAND fire terms and see what comes up and then thing what goes on they don't walk in the fire they don't get out of the car unless the fire is under control so how about join and see what it is like.
LocalGirl October 26, 2012 at 01:50 PM
The problem here is safety. Forget for a moment what Chief Buckwalter wore to council meeting. Buckwalter was walking under a burning burning, with flaming debris flying out he windows, WITH NO HELMET, and shorts and tee-shirt. Last I checked, neither his head, nor his shorts are fireproof. It's fine if he stands back from a distance. But when he is in the middle of the action, he needs to be properly attired in personal protective gear. This is a serious safety violation, and could compromise the Boro's Worker's Comp coverage. Also, basic firefighting 101, ladders were raised, and firefighters were climbing them without someone "footing" them. AND....interestingly enough....this photo must have been taken (and posted?) by a PFD member-- I didn't take it or post it-- so that would show some serious disgruntlement amongst the ranks. Yikes!
LocalGirl October 26, 2012 at 01:59 PM
"Get a Life", Chief Buckwalter put himself im serious jeopardy when he walked under a burning building with flaming debris shooting out the windows, wearing no helmet, and only tee-shirt and shorts. Pretty sure they weren't fireproof. As for the "slumlord", this building is located out of site from the street. It is owned by a sweet 71 year old lady. Her rentals on the street are inspected by the Boro every year. She recently paid over $30,000 in school taxes only-- forget what she paid in county and local taxes. Her water bills are always paid on time, along with her taxes. So maybe you should re-direct your "slumlord" comments elswhere in the Boro. This area has been secured multiple ways, multiple times, but keeps getting broken into by squatters. When the police get them, all they can do is issue a ticket for simple tresspassing. Which is appalling, considering they are breaking into a locked building, with utilities, that is occupied during the day by a maintenance worker.
LocalGirl October 26, 2012 at 02:01 PM
Johnny on the Spot, considering these properties on Bridge St. are inspected every year, what fines would you like to see issued? Not everyone can afford to rent or live in the Taj Mahal.
John C October 26, 2012 at 02:22 PM
Ms. Barto (aka Local Girl) Where were you at the said fire? Standing right in the middle of the action with him. Why were you in that area, are you an active firefighter. Basic FF101 (as you say) were proper PPE. I guess this is why you got that cut on your leg at the fire. Speaking of the said fire location, how many times has the PFD been there because residents of your rental propert (who were caught by the PPD) enter that delapitated unsafe trash filled building on your property. Were you not on another article found on the patch telling people how they should clean up their own properties?
John C October 26, 2012 at 02:23 PM
also did you climb the ladder to see the piece of rope that tied said ladder to the railing? Basic FF101 again.
Move on October 26, 2012 at 02:36 PM
Funny cause Ms. Barto you were on workmans comp for YEARS!!!!!
LocalGirl October 26, 2012 at 02:49 PM
John C. and Move On, I did not walk under the building where flaming debris was flying out, like the un-equipped chief did. I stood out of harm's way. The "cut" on my leg was from mosquito bites that I scratched (go ahead, blame the West Nile outbreak on me next.) I will be on Worker's Comp for the rest of my life, after I permanently injured my back while evacuating residents from a high-rise building fire. I gave my all above and beyond to the PFD as a volunteer firefighter, EMT, and Rescue Diver for over 10 years. I was an officer and Firefighter of the Month. To this day I suffer immense pain but I refuse to let it ruin my life, and luckily I can accomodate "light duty" so the Boro does not have to pay my F/T wages. Btw, it was the BORO's docs who listed me as permanently injured, not my own. And I have offered to volunteer with the FD, but because of personal vendettas against me, I am not allowed to volunteer. (They have no "light duty" policy, but conveniently, other members are allowed to be around while on LD status.) I cannot help that tresspassers continue to spew trash along with them. There is only so much one person can do.
LocalGirl October 26, 2012 at 03:10 PM
Hummmm....any chance John C. is "John C. Buckwalter?"
LocalGirl October 26, 2012 at 03:33 PM
Robert J-- The Dive Team wrote a light duty policy so I could get back to volunteering--as a Safety Officer. I offered to do the same for the FD, and Chief Gable agreed that I brought up a good point and also agreed to meet with me to discuss it. When I asked for a good day and time, he never responded. As for property upkeep...an abandoned building waiting for development is an abandoned building. It is secured, but you can't 100% secure a city block when people are determined enough to break in. Keep up your pot-shots....I can guarantee I have volunteered more time in this community, and elsewhere, than you ever have or ever will.
LocalGirl October 26, 2012 at 03:44 PM
Robert J-- Walking under a burning building to get to the other side to look up and see from where the flaming debris was falling requires PPE. 'Nuff said. I don't care if you are paid or a volunteer. And btw, if you didn't have your gear, you shoulda stayed home. But that's just my humble opinion...
Robert J October 26, 2012 at 03:47 PM
so your saying buckwalter was in the wrong for going under the fire ok thats fine but if the building was to collapse and don't have the correct ppe on then where were you in the collapse zone also then who is to blame?
Move on October 26, 2012 at 04:26 PM
P-ville resident forever WTF does it matter where someone else does or doesnt work - besides John H held a position at West End and a position at Lansdale - both Full time mind you ! As for current chief's gf she is not reason West End is so screwed up that is the management!!!
LocalGirl October 26, 2012 at 04:36 PM
I again refer to the Boro Fire Ordinance...under it, hasn't Buckwalter (former Chief from West End) had responsibility for EMS Services in the Boro? So where has he been while West End has fallen into such disarray all these years? Or do we only follow the Ordinance when it is convenient?
Goddess October 26, 2012 at 05:32 PM
Didn't Councilman Jim Evans lay claim to the new Friendship building site for the Church Housing Corporation? He recused himself when he presented plans for taking over the partially completed 2.9 acre firehouse site, but did he recuse himself from Friendship Fire Company decisions? Lynn Jusinski even stated in her article, "Evans noted that some of the details would not be worked out in public" and quoted Evans as saying “There are aspects of this that I believe are not appropriate for public address at this point". And yet he goes before the Borough and asks for favors. Jusinski quoted Evans further, "There is not a conflict of interest under the state laws nor under the ethics code of the borough of Phoenixville because I do not have a personal financial stake. I’m an employee of a non-profit, and so it’s excluded from the requirements of an abstention." Is Borough Council culture tolerant to conflicts of interest? Some elected officials have actually switched seats during meetings, starting out sitting with the decision-making body and then moving to the microphone to represent the interests of their paying clients. Decision making in Phoenixville is regularly obscured from the public. Current Borough Hall should be sold for full market price and used to lower taxes in the Borough, taxes that have been raised on a percentage basis year after year, when the Borough can't balance its budget except to raid the pockets of its citizens.
Goddess October 26, 2012 at 05:46 PM
STFU, you raise a good point. How much has the Borough paid to attorneys and consultants for this debacle? Where will the Borough get the money in the future? Friendship and West End can have fundraisers at a drop of a hat to cover any legal fees, but what will the Borough have to do to cover its costs? Hopefully Council members with a fiscal responsibility streak should caution the others who are all to eager to waste Borough resources trying to save face.
BIG ERNIE October 27, 2012 at 01:16 AM
I USED TO BE A FIREFIGHTER HERE IN P-VILLE YEARS AGO, AND EVEN BACK THEN POLITICS PLAYED HAVOC WITH ALL THREE COMPANIES. WEST END COVERED EMS, FRIENDSHIP -FIRE AND WATER RESCUE, AND LADDER 65- FIRE .NOTHING EVER GOT DONE BY COUNCIL UNTIL A MAJOR FIRE, LIKE LIPNAKS, MCFADDENS OR FLOOD LIKE AGNESS, WAKE UP AND LEARN FROM PASS LESSONS, WORK WITH THESE STATIONS AND HELP THEM, NOT DICK EM OVER FOR LOVE OF MONEY ON WASTED PET PROJECTS ! BESIDES DID ANYONE EVER NOTICE THAT THE COMMUNITY IS LARGER NOW THAN BACK THEN AND SEEMS TO ME THAT JUST ONE STATION FIGHTING FIRES JUST ISNT ENOUGH !!!! DAAAHHH ALMOST NO FIRE PROTECTION IN THIS COMMUNITY . GOD BLESS LADDER 65 FOR THEIR EFFORTS,THEY SURE NEED IT
lm October 27, 2012 at 03:23 PM
SHOW US THE MONEY
lm October 27, 2012 at 03:28 PM
LOOK MANY DIDNT USE THEIR GENDER ASSETS TO MAKE IT UP THE RANKS UNLIKE THE HOT TUB QUEEN OF BRIDGE ST...
Kevin R Pound October 28, 2012 at 11:41 AM
That comment is libelous.
ireozzie October 29, 2012 at 07:01 PM
All this bs needs to stop. The population is growing exponentially, We need more fire protection.
SpecialSauce October 31, 2012 at 04:58 PM
I am an EMT living in Phoenixville, but I am not involved with West End (I work elsewhere). Phoenixville has a high annual EMS call volume and a growing population. Which neighboring EMS squad has the resources to take over the borough? It would take at least 1-2 full time crews to be available 24/7 to adequately handle the borough. Each actual ambulance requires: 2 people per crew x 2 shifts per day x 3 rotations per week = 10-12 people. Most nearby squads don't have enough employees, ambulances, or liquid assets to set themselves up in the borough without compromising their own coverage areas. It seems to me that it might be better for the community to focus on improving what is there now at West End because at least the infrastructure is available. Management issues can be fixed with the right people if the politics can be put aside for the sake of the community.

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