WRIGHT TWP. — Leaders from the Wright Township Volunteer Fire Department want Mountain Top residents to rest easy.
It’s been six months since the Rice Township Board of Supervisors decertified its volunteer department due to years of bad management. Rice Township contracted with neighboring Wright Township Fire Department at the end of June to provide firefighting service. .
Rice Township firefighters, who own the station property and hold leases for their trucks, have maintained their status as a department under the new name Independence Fire & Rescue Co. No. 1, though they are not accredited by Luzerne County 911.
During the transition, Wright department heads were largely quiet about how they planned to fulfill their new responsibilities.
Wright Township Deputy Fire Chief Chris Krout sat down with The Times Leader this week to fill in residents on the department’s efforts to provide superior protection to both municipalities.
Q.What is the fire department doing now?
A. “We’re introducing ourselves to both townships again and we just want to make sure everyone is comfortable. There’s been so much talk and negativity, so much buzz out there about everything that’s been going on with the fire service in Mountain Top, and we have taken a stance of ‘we only did what we were asked to do.’ … It’s not our fight.
“Aside from using state-of-that technology to summon firefighters, fostering mutual aid relationships with departments as far as Laflin, Wright Township has recently completed a lengthy application for a better rating with the Insurance Standards Organization, ISO. A better rating could lower homeowners’ insurance premiums for both Rice and Wright townships.”
Q. How many firefighters volunteer for WTVFD?
A. “I just did the paperwork for the state … at that time we had 25 certified firefighters, certified to some level.
“We have people who haven’t gotten to class yet. We have kids 14 to 17, they’re called junior firefighters. They can’t go anywhere near the fire, but they’re great. They help with accountability, tools, I mean they’re a great asset. I wish we could get them out of school during the day.
“We have a strong volunteer force. We’re fortunate. We have a lot of members that are close to the fire house so we get out the door quickly.
“We use (computer software) called IAmResponding. A lot of fire departments are going to this. It actually links in with the county. We got pagers, we get a text, we get an email and those of us that have smartphones have the app. Through the app, we can actually see who’s coming.”
Q. Has the Independence Fire & Rescue Co. No. 1 responded to invitations to join the Wright department?
A. “I’ve been a part of this whole thing since it started. I was in every meeting.
“After (former Rice Township Volunteer Fire Chief Paul Eyerman) was let or got thrown out, whatever the case may be, they finally came over, the Tambascos came over, Kevin (chief) and his sister, Gina (secretary/treasurer arrested Dec. 9 on charges she stole more than $30,000 from the department). We basically said, ‘What do you want? We understand our bylaws aren’t built around this situation. We understand we have modify them to accommodate and try to work with you. … We’ll see what we can do.
“Two, three days later, they’re in the paper saying something completely opposite of what was discussed in the room.”
Q. What are you doing to reach out to the Mountain Top community?
A. “Facebook is for anybody and everybody, we really want to push the Facebook page, just get that safety message out there. Every day I try to post something.
“So here’s something about chimneys I posted. How to take care of it different things about it, with a reliable source. It’s not Chris Krout said you should do this, it’s National Fire Protection Association said you should do this. I try to pin a reliable source to it because there’s so many incidents that could have been avoided, and it bothers me.
“We really try to push safety stuff, if one person, if we can save one life, if somebody can get something out of this. That’s what we want.
“With Crestwood High School, we’ve been building a relationship with them for years.
“Rice Elementary is new to us, so we made that approach during the beginning (of the transition).
“There’s been no planning and no drills done with Rice Elementary since, like, 2009. We went over and we’re doing that.
“(Before the transition), there was an alarm call there. Rice Township didn’t go, so we got called. We got there, we didn’t know who to talk to, we didn’t know what there policies and procedures were, nothing. We immediately went to them when this all went down and got a lot of that ironed out.”
Q. Are insurance premiums going up for Rice Township residents?
A. “This is a big concern for most people. The township encouraged residents to contact their insurance companies, but to the best of my knowledge, no one’s had any issues. It’s all under five miles away.
“One of the other things were working on is the ISO ratings. We don’t have our results yet, but we’ve been busting our butts on this for about 10 years. Insurance companies use that ISO rating to justify what they’re going to rate you on fire insurance.
“If you live in a hydranted area you’re gonna have one number, and if you live in a non-hydranted area your gonna have a different number … and there’s more risk of loss there. Right now we’re a 5 (for hydrant areas) and 9 (for non-hydrant areas). We’re hoping to improve both of those numbers.”
Rice Township Supervisor Miller Stella said the “Wright Township Fire Department has proven to me that they are very, very professional. They have been extremely courteous to our residents. They are a top-notch organization, and they will be serving our residents well,” Stella said.
Wright Township firefighters are giving Rice Township the same level of attention they give their own residents, Stella said.
A Wright Township rescue truck has been placed in the Rice Township public works garage and firefighters have visited every fire hydrant in the township to install fluorescent markers so crews can find them in case of high snow, something that was never done before, Stella said.
“By going with Wright Township, this was a vision for the future and the safety for all residents,” Stella said. “And as a supervisor, that should always be your top priority. Making decisions is hard, but making the right decisions is easy.”