BELLEVUE, Pa. (KDKA) — The Pittsburgh Fire Bureau is now handling calls coming out of Bellevue after the county council voted to decertify their voluntary fire department.
The board voted to revoke the certification of Columbia Hose, Hook, and Ladder Company, known as the borough’s volunteer department. Firefighters from the Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire will now provide automated assistance to the borough free of charge.
The council sent a letter to residents saying that the Bellevue Fire Department has three career and three part-time firefighters, and members of Columbia Hose, Hook, and Ladder are volunteers.
Volunteers said they received no warning before the meeting.
“We saw an item on the agenda for ‘the future of firefighting’ and no one knew what it meant, and we couldn’t come up with an answer. We were completely blindsided by a motion that wasn’t advertised and wasn’t on the agenda at all,” said Glenn Pritchard, former fire chief of the Bellevue Volunteer Fire Company.
The council says that Bellevue has a unique hybrid arrangement in that the Fire Chief is also a volunteer, meaning that paid firefighters take direction from the volunteer chief. The board says this can pose significant complications because career firefighters generally have more training and certification than volunteers.
“This is a tragedy, I have to tell our residents, ‘when you call 911 tonight and the girls and boys who show up over the years and save lives and save property, we’re not coming and it’s not up to us. ,'” Prita said.
The borough has completed two studies and the report notes that fire service delivery is not compatible with progressive fire management techniques or efficient fire service protection.
The report notes, “it is clear and visible that firefighting service delivery, including assignment of responsibilities, exposure to liability, maintenance of equipment, departmental control, and responsiveness is not compatible with progressive firefighting management techniques or efficient firefighting service protection associated with service delivery.” fire and emergency services in the Bellevue area.”
The council said the problem had been intensified by the declining number of volunteer firefighters.
The president of Columbia Hose, Hook, and Ladder #1, Heidi Cummings, told KDKA that paid and volunteer firefighters work seamlessly together in emergency services.
Cummings said the decisions made by the board put families at risk.
The council said the borough’s paid firefighters would respond to non-structural fire incidents. If there is a building fire, the Pittsburgh Fire Bureau will respond from most of their stations in Brighton Heights.
“It’s unsustainable to rely on the city of Pittsburgh, it’s going to take their firefighters longer to get here to Bellevue, so you’re reducing safety and ultimately increasing costs,” said Joseph Scioscia, treasurer of Bellevue Borough.
Two board members voted no on a motion to cancel voluntary fire company certification.
“They pulled it out at the last minute. I believe what they did was technically legal, but it’s reprehensible because they put the safety of everyone in town at risk,” Scioscia said.
Pritchard said he became fire chief a few months ago and that he has been reaching out to the borough for a long time to try new things, but they haven’t listened. The former leaders were very frustrated and disappointed that they could no longer be there for their community.
“This is not necessarily an irreversible decision, but it is damaging to volunteer morale and what we now think the borough is about us, it runs deep,” said Pritchard.
Cummings posted a statement that read, “What most Bellevue residents may not realize, is that the Borough of Bellevue also has 2 full-time firefighters (formerly 3) that make up the Bellevue Fire Department. Within a 24 hour period, firefighters for the borough fire department is responsible for driving and operating engine 108, the primary fire suppression tool for the borough. All other emergencies – vehicle rescue, medical, fire fighting and rescue, mutual aid emergencies in other communities- are attended by Columbia volunteers Hose, Hook and Ladder #1. So if you see more than one firefighter and one engine at the emergency site- every other vehicle and responder is a volunteer. Our paid drivers and volunteers work seamlessly together at the emergency site.”
“We’re reeling. We’re completely numb. You want to see a big tough guy break down and cry? Come on over to our fire department. We’re volunteers. We work HARD. For nothing,” Cummings also said.