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.
The Board of Directors
West End Fire Co. #3