Bensalem Public Safety Director Fred Harran said Tuesday that claims the Union Fire Co. was shut down because of a personal grudge he holds against Chief Vince Troisi are “utterly ridiculous.” But he does acknowledge that the removal of the fire chief is a “key element” in resolving the issue and lifting the volunteer company's suspension.
And judging by comments by Harran and a fire company attorney, things could get even more ugly.
Harran said Tuesday that no members of the Union Fire Co. can respond to a fire.
“If they respond, they will be treated like any other civilian at a fire scene and if they cross the fire line, they'll be arrested,” he told Patch.
Fire company attorney Krista Harper says if the suspension isn't lifted by Thursday, she will “proceed immediately to seek all appropriate measures.”
The township announced in a press release Monday that Union's operations had been suspended because its leadership failed to follow administrative and operational directions from the township on many occasions over the past 12-18 months.
In a letter posted on the fire company's website Monday, Harper told Township Attorney Joseph Pizzo that Harran has “improper and illegal motives” spurred by “bad will” against Troisi because of the latter's testimony during a civil case several years ago. That testimony, she wrote, cast Harran in an “unfavorable light.”
Harran said Tuesday that is not the case.
“How do I respond to something that is utterly ridicuous?,” he said. “Why would I hold a grudge for something four years ago that didn't hurt us? Even if we lost that case, I wouldn't hold a grudge.”
Harran says Harper is referring to a case in which a demoted police officer sued the township and lost the case.
“I don't even remember Vince making any disparaging remarks about me,” he added.
Harran said Monday night that one issue the township had with the fire company was its “delay” in supplying water to another fire department during a recent fire. Harper said that was not the case. Rather, she writes to Pizzo, there was a problem with a hydrant during the April 19 fire on State Road.
Harper claims Harran suggested to the fire company that a police probe determined there was no wrongdoing by the company at the fire but he won't put that in writing. Harran's response: “I never told them that.”
Harper also wrote that Harran has demanded a member of the Union Fire Co. with 40 years of firefighting and emergency response experience be removed from active duty because that person's pre-existing medical condition could be costly to the township in terms of worksman's compensation.
Harran said there is incorrect information in that statement, which he did not elaborate on, citing personnel confidentiality. But he acknowledged “one of their volunteers can not be authorized to be an active firefighter” and claimed the fire company has ignored that directive.
Harper's letter claims Harran has acted to “severely limit the fire companies actions and extend control over the fire company.”
The township decided last fall to start a paid fire department with four employees. Harran acknowledged to Patch early this year that some volunteers firefighters weren't happy about that. But he said all six companies had said they needed help with daytime coverage.
Harran said Monday night that the Union Fire Co. does have problems with the township's new career department.
“There's no personality problems but they have a problem with the concept of paid firefighters,” he said.
Harper's letter, however, claims the Union Co. “enjoys a good working rapport with all other local and volunteer and paid fire companies.”
Harran said Monday night that all five other volunteer fire chiefs agreed with the township's decision to suspend the operations of Union.
Those chiefs could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.
Harper's letter claims the township has “no authority or control over the reasonable operation of the fire company and specifically has no right to control the government of the fire company.” Harran said Tuesday that the township disagrees and feels it is on sound legal ground.
“The township has the authority to determine who responds to fires,” he said.
Harran said a change in leadership of Union – specifically the removal of Troisi and Union Fire Co., President Steve Carmichael – “would be one of the key elements” to resolving the situation.
“At least those two,” he said. “I would probably look at some other officers as well.”
Harran added, “I think they have some very competent people there who could be fine leaders. I also think some of them can't because of the people leading now who won't let them rise.”
Attempts to reach Troisi on Monday and Tuesday were unsuccessful. Carmichael could not be reached Tuesday.
According to Harran, the suspension will not impact public safety, as other fire companies had been reassigned to provide coverage to areas covered by Union, which is located at 2067 State Road.
According to reports, a public meeting will be held to discuss the matter at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Pen Ryn Mansion on State Road.