Supervisors want results by October
A frustrated New Hanover Township Board of Supervisors has given the Sassamansville and New Hanover fire companies another chance to voluntarily move towards the goal of combining fire services within the township - and it may be their last.
Officials are adamant that they want to move forward with a plan to reorganize the two fire departments into a single township-wide “fire and rescue system service” as recommended in a fire assessment study performed by Volunteer Fireman’s Insurance Services (VFIS).
Last month, the supervisors passed standard operating guidelines (SOGs) for a combined service between the companies and were planning to act on an ordinance making the single township-wide service official at Monday’s meeting.
But, according to township officials, lack of cooperation and information sharing with the supervisors has stonewalled the project.
The meeting was attended by several volunteers from both the New Hanover and Sassamansville fire companies. Shortly after the meeting began, loud beeps rang from personal, emergency alert devices bringing the meeting to a temporary halt while volunteers from both companies sprang to respond to a call for help, leaving many empty seats in the meeting room.
Later in the meeting, after the volunteers returned, the discussion of the merged services began with Township Solicitor Paul Bauer reading a suggested resolution for supervisors to consider. If passed, the only organization recognized and authorized to provide service in the municipality would be the New Hanover Township Fire Company. Approval of the resolution could leave the Sassamansville Fire Company without a community to serve or would force them to join in the merger of services.
During the past month, Bauer prepared a draft of operating by-laws for the two companies to consider. One of the sticking points for the Sassamansville volunteers was a residency rule requiring firefighters to reside within New Hanover Township. Because of the location of the Sassamansville Fire Company in the northwestern section of the township, and the station’s close proximity to several other townships, some volunteers live outside of New Hanover.
Bauer pointed out that this was only a draft presented to the two organizations for their discussion and input, and not a final document.
Township officials also questioned the scope of an email sent by Sassmansville Chief Ray Strickland who reported that many volunteers may resign rather than become part of the proposed merger. The fear that prompted Bauer to draft the resolution was that Sassamansville would be left without any firefighters if the merger proceeded.
Township officials also cited their concern with a current lawsuit involving the Sassamansville Fire Company.
Attorney Bruce Baldwin of Pottstown, representing some of the members of the Sassamansville Fire Company, admitted that “governance had been in disarray” and that much of that was due to management issues in the social area of the organization and not in the firefighting operation.
Sassamansville Fire Company President Bill Pasqual reported that the legal action was between some members in the two groups and that those involved in the operation of the social or clubroom areas of the organization are “no longer with the company and the suit will probably be dropped.”
When asked of the status of the volunteers, Strickland announced that five had indicated their desire to resign but over the past month “three had rescinded their request.” Strickland said that over the last month the company added two new members, bringing their current roster up to 21 active firefighters.
Supervisor David Brown asked how long it takes to become a member. Strickland replied that it takes two months for the approval process and Brown replied, “So you really only have 19 members.”
The names of the volunteers were also a sticking point. Over the past few weeks, township officials had requested, via email, a roster of the volunteers but Strickland wanted to know why. Supervisors’ Chairman Martin Dyas replied that, “When your boss asks you for something you give it to him.”
A quick check of the Sassamansville Company website shows a roster including the names of 22 members (including two reported as recent applicants). Most area fire companies post a roster of their volunteers online for public viewing.
After about 30 minutes of back-and-forth debate regarding the merging of services and incidents that occurred over the past month, Dyas reminded everyone that the whole chain of events started back in 2010 when Sassamansville asked for an increase in their funding from the township.
Sassamansville volunteer Bill Agliano, brother of New Hanover Township Chief Phil Agliano, rose to speak, saying, “We have to work together quickly … this bickering has got to stop.”
Phil Agliano added that, “I am amenable to work with Sassamansville any way that I can.”
The subject came to a close with supervisors directing officials from both fire companies to begin meeting to review the by-laws for the combined fire services, submitted by Bauer, and suggest changes or enhancements - and to do so by next month.
New Hanover Township Fire Company’s Deputy Chief Bill Moyer reminded the supervisors that the SOG’s took one year to develop and that, “The by-laws won’t be done in one month.”
Officials cited that they want meetings being held, future meetings to be scheduled and progress by the October supervisors meeting.
Without going into detail, some township officials cited receiving offensive and threatening emails from a member of the Sassmansville Fire Company. Near the end of that discussion, Supervisor Doug Muller indicated that he doesn’t respond to threats and then issued one of his own saying, “If things don’t get resolved by next meeting I will support this resolution [removing Sassamansville from responding to emergency calls in New Hanover Township].”