BUENA — The five-member Borough Council voted unanimously Monday to dissolve Fire District #1, which the Landisville Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company has served for the past 99 years.
Without discussion, the council also expanded Fire District #2, which is served by the Minotola Volunteer Fire Company, so Minotola will now cover the area formerly serviced by Landisville.
After the vote, Landisville Chief Ken Barbagli said the fire company gave it their best shot to stay open. There will be a petition to recall the mayor and all five member council members, Barbagli said.
The council’s vote brings to an end — at least from the council’s perspective — a tumultuous period that has lasted more than a year. During that time, the Landisville company has had serious violations lodged against it by the state.
Landisville whistleblowers led to investigations by the state departments of Health and Labor that started last year. The department had four chiefs during the past year. Systemic problems include a CPA’s audit saying there have been violations of statutory obligations and duties by the Board of Fire Commissioners.
Fire company supporters say all of the health and labor violations have been cleared up. People inside and outside the fire company could have helped fix problems instead of criticizing, supporters said. The problems in Landisville are not worse than many other firefighting agencies if they were put under the same microscope, they said.
If it were to reopen — Landisville has been under suspension by the council since December — it would allow for a level of service to be maintained that supporters say cannot by achieved by the expansion of Fire District #2 without also adding paid firefighters.
The council said the fire commissioners of District #1 knew of many irregularities within the Landisville company and its line officers, and leadership did not take responsibility for the actions of the membership. There is a public safety and health interest and a financial savings to dissolving Fire District #1 and expanding Fire District #2, the governing body said.
The council made a presentation in May that said the estimated savings by dissolving Fire District #1 and expanding Fire District #2 would be $102,684 annually.
The state Local Finance Board approved the borough’s application for dissolution of Fire District #1 and expansion of Fire District #2 on July 14. This was a necessary step before the local governing body could vote.
The property owned by Fire District #1 that was paid for by taxpayers and all money remaining in the Fire District #1 treasury will be transferred to the Board of Commissioners of Fire District #2.
The public asked the council over the phone during a remote-only meeting whether the Landisville company building and its trucks would be sold or used by the Minotola company, but those questions were not answered.
Residents and interested parties with a desire to save the Landisville company made one last-ditch effort to plead their case to the council over the phone during a quickly scheduled special meeting Monday that was held one hour earlier than normal.
More than a dozen people gathered at the firehouse for the last time to ask officials questions and listen to the meeting. Most of those commenting from the public wanted the fire company to be saved.
BUENA — Chief Ken Barbagli walked into the Landisville Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company bui…
“There are no outstanding reasons for the department to be closed. This department should be reopened,” said borough resident Bruno Rowan, 20. “This department deserves to prove itself.”
Betty Testa, who also lives in the borough, said it has been a long, devastating year, and that this has been a heartbreaking ordeal. When it came to the health and labor violations, a certificate from the state said the fire company could reopen, Testa said.
The past is gone, and everything has been fixed, she said.
“No fines were charged. No fines were paid,” Testa said.
With three senior housing complexes built and a fourth on the way, Testa questioned whether Minotola could handle them by itself.
“Where is your compassion for the Landisville Fire Department. ... Clearly, a better plan could have been utilized,” Testa said as she mentioned some people have literally become sick over the prospect of this closure. “I am disappointed and let down. ... Let’s put this all aside and work together. You can save the future of the fire department.”
Joanne Rosemont’s late husband, Joseph “Junior” Rosemont, who died at 82 in 2019, was an active member of the Landisville company for 53 years and served as chief for 10 years. Rosemont asked whether closing the fire district could be put on a ballot in November, so the citizens could vote on it.
But after an hour of public comment, the council voted to dissolve Fire District #1 and expand Fire District #2 and adjourned their meeting.
“Am I mad? Yes,” Barbagli said. “Am I disappointed? Yes.”
He said he was told that Landisville volunteer firefighters who are interested in joining the Minotola company can fill out an application.
Items that were paid for by fire company members, such as tables and chairs, were being removed Monday night, but anything that was paid for with taxpayer money will stay in the firehouse, Barbagli said.
There will be a 100th anniversary celebration of the fire company next year even though the company will no longer exist, he said.
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