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Chronicle: Burning Questions (Politics of Firefighting)


Bring your dreams to life. SALLY: HERE’S SOMETHING THAT MAY SURPRISE YOU. IF YOUR HOUSE CATCHES FIRE, THE CLOSEST FIRE STATION MAY NOT BE CALLED TO HELP PUT IT OUT. THAT’S BECAUSE SOMETIMES FIRE CHIEFS OF NEIGHBORING STATIONS DO NOT GET ALONG. AND IN PENNSYLVANIA, IT’S UP TO THE LOCAL FIRE CHIEF TO DECIDE WHO BACKS UP HIS DEPARTMENT WHEN THEY GO TO A FIRE. PAUL VAN OSDOL SHOWS US HOW EVEN THE STATE FIRE COMMISSIONER ACKNOWLEDGES POLITICS AND PERSONALITY CAN SOMETIMES TRUMP PUBLIC SAFETY. PAUL: WHEN THIS HOUSE CAUGHT FIRE IN NORTH BRADDOCK, MULTIPLE STATIONS WERE CALLED TO BACK UP THE NORTH BRD — BRADDOCK FIRE DEPARTMENT. TRUCKS CAME FROM EAST MCKEESPORT, MONROEVILLE, 6.5 MILES AWAY, AND PENN HILLS, 6.7 MILES AWAY. BUT ONE FIRE DEPARTMENT MUCH CLOSER WAS NOWHERE TO BE FOUND. THIS IS SWISSVALE, JUST TWO TENTHS OF A MILE FROM THE HOUSE THAT BURNED, IT’S RIGHT ACROSS THAT BRIDGE AND UP THE HILL. THE SWISSVALE FIRE DEPARTMENT IS JUST A MILE AND A HALF AWAY FROM THAT HOUSE, BUT WHEN THE HOUSE CAUGHT FIRE, SWISSVALE TRUCKS NEVER LEFT THE STATION. THAT’S BECAUSE THE NORTH BRADDOCK FIRE CHIEF DOES NOT WANT SWISSVALE HELPING HIM OUT. THIS DESPITE THE FACT THAT SWISSVALE HAS A PROFESSIONAL FIRE DEPARTMENT. DISPATCH RECORDS SHOW IT HAS ONE OF THE QUICKEST RESPONSE TIMES IN ALLEGHENY COUNTY. I ASKED THE NORTH BRADDOCK FIRE CHIEF ABOUT WHY HE LEFT SWISSVALE OFF HIS RUN CARD. THE DOCUMENT HE GIVES ALLEGHENY COUNTY 911 SAYING WHICH DEPARTMENTS ARE BACKING HIM UP. THEY’RE NOT IN THE — WHY NOT? BECAUSE THEY’RE PRETTY CLOSE, RIGHT? THEY ARE. PAUL: ANY REASON WHY THEY WOULDN’T RESPOND, BECAUSE IT’S ONLY A COUPLE BLOCKS? I DON’T KNOW. PAUL: NORTH BRADDOCK REMOVED SWISSVALE FROM ITS RUN CARD AFTER THIS. DURING THE WHOLE WEEK BEFORE IT HAPPENED. PAUL: A CONTROVERSY THAT BROKE OUT WHEN SWISSVALE FIRED DEPUTY FIRE CHIEF JIM BARKA WHO IS ALSO THE CHIEF IN HOMESTEAD. OTHER VOLUNTEER FIREFIGHTERS RALLIED AROUND BARKA. HIS ALLIES ALLEGED HE WAS FIRED BECAUSE HOMESTEAD DID NOT ALLOW SWISSVALE TO HELP FIGHT A MASSIVE BLAZE IN HOMESTEAD EARLIER THIS YEAR. SWISSVALE’S CHIEF SAID THAT HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT. THE STATE FIRE COMMISSIONER SAYS THERE IS NO REASON FOR FIRE CHIEFS TO BLOCK NEIGHBORING DEPARTMENTS FROM BACKING THEM UP. DOESN’T THAT PUT THEIR OWN CITIZENS IN JEOPARDY? IT SURE DOES, AND I TELL YOU WHAT, I’VE BEEN VERY CRITICAL IN THE PAST WHEN I’VE HEARD THAT. THERE’S A COUPLE OF THEM GOING ON RIGHT NOW IN THE COMMONWEALTH. WHERE ARE THEY AT? PAUL: IN FAWN TOWNSHIP A SIMMERING FUELED BETWEEN FIRE DEPARTMENTS ERUPTED AT A TOWNSHIP SUPERVISORS MEETING. WE CALL FOR AN ENGINE, YOU BRING A BRUSH — NEVER, NEVER. THIS GUY HERE IS FULL OF CRAP. PAUL: EMOTIONS WERE HIGH WHEN THE SUPERVISORS MET TO VOTE ON AN ORDINANCE REQUIRING THE TWO LOCAL FIRE DEPARTMENTS TO WORK TOGETHER. WE’VE ASKED BOTH FIRE DEPARTMENTS TO WORK THAT OUT. BOTH FIRE DEPARTMENTS CANNOT WORK THAT OUT. PAUL: THE DISPUTE CENTERS ON FAWN STATION’S 2 CHIEF EWING’S PRACTICE OF RESPONDING TO FIRES IN HIS PERSONAL CAR, THEN CALLING IN A TRUCK IF IT’S SERIOUS. IT BETTER THAN A LOT OF FIRE TRUCKS RUNNING UP AND DOWN THE ROAD, IN OUR OPINION. PAUL: BUT OFFICIALS AT FAWN STATION ONE SAY FAWN TWO SOMETIMES FAILS TO PROVIDE ADEQUATE RESPONSE. THERE WAS A BRUSH TRUCK THERE, NOT AN ENGINE. WHY IS THAT A PROBLEM? BECAUSE THEY WERE CALL FORWARD AN ENGINE. PAUL: FAWN FIREFIGHTERS ANGRILY DENY COMPROMISING PUBLIC SAFETY. I’VE NEVER SEEN YOU AT A FIRE AND I’VE NEVER SEEN YOU AT A FIRE DEPARTMENT, YOU’RE FULL OF IT. PAUL: ALSO ALLEGATIONS THAT THE DEPARTMENTS WERE REMOVING EACH OTHER FROM THEIR RUN CARDS, THE OFFICIAL DOCUMENT THAT 911 USES WHEN THEY DISPATCH TRUCKS TO A FIRE. YOU SAID YOU WERE GOING TO TAKE THEM OFF YOUR RUN CARD. I NEVER SAID THAT. PAUL: IT WOULD REQUIRE BOTH DEPARTMENTS TO SEND FIRE TRUCKS TO A FIRE CALL, PAYING A FINE OF UP TO $1,000. THAT ANGERED THE CROWD EVEN MORE. IT’S NOT FAIR TO THESE FIREMEN THAT THEY SHOULD BE PUNISHED FOR DOING US A FAVOR, FOR PROTECTING THE CITIZENS. PAUL: AND QUESTIONS ABOUT CONFLICTS OF INTEREST SINCE TWO TOWNSHIP SUPERVISORS ARE MEMBERS OF FAWN STATION ONE. YOU GOT A CONFLICT OF INTEREST HERE, OH, YES YOU DO. PAUL: THE SUPERVISORS HELD OFF ON PASSING AN ORDINANCE AND TOLD THE CHIEFS TO MEET AGAIN TO TRY TO SETTLE THEIR DIFFERENCES. IN EAST PITTSBURGH A POLITICAL DISPUTE IS KEEPING THIS FIRE TRUCK FROM LEAVING THE FIRE HOUSE. WHEN THIS HOUSE IN EAST PITTSBURGH CAUGHT FIRE IN JANUARY, TRUCKS SHOWED UP FROM BRADDOCK, NORTH BRADDOCK AND OTHER COMMUNITIES. BUT EAST PITTSBURGHS PUMPER TRUCK NEVER LEFT THE STATION, THAT’S BECAUSE THE TRUCK’S INSPECTION EXPIRED LAST SEPTEMBER. THE REGISTRATION EXPIRED IN JANUARY. SINCE THE BOROUGH OWNS THE TRUCK, I ASKED THE COUNCIL PRESIDENT ABOUT IT. THE TRUCK HAS BEEN SITTING IN THE GARAGE OVER THERE SINCE SEPTEMBER WITHOUT AN INSPECTION STICKER. WHY? THAT’S A GOOD QUESTION, I THINK WE’D HAVE TO TALK TO THE FIRE CHIEF ABOUT THAT AND SEE WHY HE DOESN’T WANT TO GET IT INSPECTED. PAUL: THE CHIEF SAYS HE COULD NOT GET THE BOROUGH TO PAY FOR THE INSPECTION. IT’S THEIR TRUCK, THEY HAVE A RESPONSIBILITY TO THE CITIZENS OF THE COMMUNITY TO MAKE SURE IT WORKS. NOT JUST SIT HERE. PAUL: THE FIRE CHIEF, WHO USED TO BE ON COUNCIL, SAYS A LONG STANDING POLITICAL FEUD IS THE REAL REASON THE BOROUGH IS NOT PAYING FOR THE TRUCK. THAT FEUD CULMINATED IN THE COUNCIL VOTING TO ELIMINATE THE FIRE DEPARTMENT AND PAY BRADDOCK TO FIGHT FIRES IN EAST PITTSBURGH. BASICALLY WHAT WE HAVE HERE IS POLITICIANS MAKING A DECISION BASED ON PERSONALITIES, NOT BASED ON THE PUBLIC SAFETY OF THE COMMUNITY. THEY’RE HURTING THE PEOPLE. PAUL: THAT’S THE LAST THING ANY FIREFIGHTER WANTS TO DO. BUT WHEN YOU MIX POLITICS AND PUBLIC SAFETY, THE RESULT CAN BE COMBUSTIBLE. STILL AHEAD, VOLUNTEER FIRE CHIEFS VENT THEIR FRUSTRATION, AND SHARE IDEAS ON HOW TO IMPROVE FIRE RESPONSE TIMES. GUYS ARE GETTING BURNED UP.

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Comments
  • The term 'professional' is kinda irritating, 'career' is usually the term. NB chief doesn't seem that sure of himself either.

  • In beaver county the only station like that is freedom. For some reason he just cant get along with all the other fire chiefs.

  • A key thing missing here, when a volunteer company calls a paid department for mutual aid, often times that aid agreement comes with a charge. As such, municipalities will pressure their companies chiefs to not have a local paid department on their runs.

  • This is definitely a thing even here in Canada

    Two nearby departments that have problems behind doors

    TLTI and Ganoque fire departments in Ontario that have stations blocks from eachother have conflicts because Chiefs don't agree and don't like eachothers fire fighters

    They do have autoaid agreements and they do Ganoque fire does call on TLTI for mutual aid but vice versa is not common unless it is in the autoaid agreement

  • I am so lucky to live in Huntington Park Ca. I live less than 300 feet from LA County Fire Department Station 164. You call they come. Have you ever heard of mutual aid. We have it here in California. Right now we have massive brush fires in both Southern and Northern California. CalFire our state fire agency asked for help. LA County, City, as well as other cities, and Federal Fire Agencies throughout the state have answer the call for help by sending 5 engine companies and a BC to the fires. Politics aside you first responders are here to protect the public that you serve. Get over your childish bickering and get the job done. BURY THE HATCHET!!!

  • My god…Ive never heard such a pathetic childish set up…You guys need to grow up.
    You are supposed to be prof fire fighters. Not kids having a strop over who gets the best sweets.
    This is what happens when when you have a private FD with its own agenda..You dont need all these chiefs making decisions.
    This is done at a control room. Call 911 and control sends the nearest available, with their chief / station manager. He is in charge of that incident. If he needs more help, he calls up the control and they send the next closest and available…The chief has no say who comes, its done on suitable and available..When they arrive their chief is not the chief at the incident the first chief is in command. The first chief then tells the second chief and any other chiefs what he wants done…and they follow his orders.
    This works all over world…But the US dont seem to work like this, Why…who knows…

  • Politics hits every fire house in the country but I’m glad that even with my department and specifically my station being right outside city limits that we’re able to be requested for mutual aid even though most of the firefighters don’t like seeing us at their fires (due to their “it’s our territory” mentality) their officers know that we are their best ally in responding to calls on the east side of the city.

  • So unprofessional! Quit acting like children and work together. When I became a FF I took an oath to protect and serve and backup my fellow firefighters. I hope this has been fixed.

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