SCRANTON- If you want something changed, sometimes you have to raise your voice, and that's just what over 50 West Scranton residents did last week in an effort to get their firehouse back.
The Keyser Valley Citizen's Association sponsored a meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 17, at the Keyser Valley Community Center to discuss their feelings over brownouts of area firehouses, specifically Engine Company 7, the only firehouse in West Scranton, located at 1917 Luzerne St.
A brownout is when a fire engine or ladder company is taken out of service temporarily and the staff is redistributed to other companies.
Starting in July, the association, noticing a high number of brownouts for Engine Company 7, started to document when the firehouse was closed. The group reported that from July to September Engine Company 7 was closed 77 days, or 82 percent of the time.
It just doesn't make sense that West Scranton is getting such less protection than other parts of the city, and we can't stand for it, said Keyser Valley Citizen's Association President Gary DiBileo following the meeting.
The group called the meeting in an effort to alert area residents of the situation, and hopefully do something about it. DiBileo used the reopening of East Mountain Firehouse Engine Company 10 as an example of a community making a difference.
Engine Company 10 was reopened earlier this year, and DiBileo feels part of the reason for the change was due to residents coming together for a common cause.
We have an obligation as a neighborhood association to be safe (rather) than sorry, said DiBileo.
If we remain quiet, and ignore the situation, we may get ignored. But, if we're aware of the situation and let people know how we feel, we may not get ignored, and that's why we're here tonight.
The association invited Fire Chief Tom Davis and Deputy Chief Al Lucas to the meeting. Both men were on hand to explain some of the reasons behind the brownouts and answer questions from the public.
Lucas and Davis explained to the crowd that layoffs over the years, federal mandates and an inability to offer employees overtime has left the city unable to staff all of its firehouses every day.
I live in West Side. I want Engine 7 open, said Davis. It's down to one thing, it's economics.
Several residents in attendance asked why, if economics are the main problem, Mayor Chris Doherty reduced an $8,175,860 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to $5,068,080.
We had the economic ability to man these stations, said Scranton Councilman Jack Loscombe, who was in attendance on Wednesday night.
Turning that $3.5 million dollars back, that's the reason we don't have the man-power.
Davis said that the reason behind the reduction was the fear that the city would not receive the FEMA grant again, and in two years they would be forced to lay off the new men they hired. Many in attendance said they wished the city took the chance and accepted the full amount of the grant.
As a result of reducing the grant down, those in the area are left to worry about the possible consequences of the brownouts. The main one, for those in West Scranton, being slower response times from firefighters who are coming from further away on days Engine Company 7 is closed.
What scares me is that I have to hope, and you have to hope, is that 82 percent rate if there's a fire, so our families are protected, is that it happens during that 18 percent of the time, said DiBileo.
Davis shared the public's concerns with Mayor Chris Doherty the following day. In a phone interview he said he and the mayor will be making an effort to keep Engine Company 7 open more often, but with the shortage of manpower there's only so much they can do.
DiBileo said the Keyser Valley Citizen's Association will continue to document Engine Company 7's brownouts, and will hold another meeting at the Keyser Valley Community Center on Wednesday, Nov. 14 at 7 p.m. to continue discussing the matter.
Invitations will once again be extended to Davis and Doherty.
DiBileo said he is hoping even more members of the community decide to attend the meeting next month.