Friday, April 14, 2017
Fed Ed Has Allentown Firefighters Use Pick-Up as Engine Truck.
Allentown's firefighters are supposed to have seven engines and two ladder (aerial) trucks at the six fire stations still operating wiyhin the City. They must be available at all times to respond to calls. There should be 146 firefighters, and 17 of them should be on hand to respond to every fire with a ladder truck, three engines and an incident command vehicle. And that's the way things were before Edwin "Fed Ed" became Mayor. Under his reign, the force has shrunk from 146 to 122 firefighters. One of the ladder trucks has been taken out of service. Strangest of all, Fed Ed has the fire department using a pick-up truck as a fire engine. It's a nice truck, a GMC, but it's still just a pick-up truck. It has no water pumping capability or tank, though the bed of the truck is full of equipment that might slow down an inferno.
Jeremy Warmkessel is an Allentown firefighter who saved the life of a three-year old boy while battling a blaze in 2012. He took off his own mask and put it on the boy's face. A class act who now in President of Fire Fighters Local 302, he could keep his head down and ignore this problem, especially since the union contract is in effect until 2020. But as he put it himself, "This is a safety issue."
Though he said the department could always use more people, the real problem is a lack of resources.
He described a fire department that constantly requests new equipment, but gets the cold shoulder from Fed Ed. Even the Chief and Deputy Chief are ignored. "We have a fire chief that really cares about the guys and the city," said he said of Fire Chief Lee Laubach. But Warmkessel noted that trucks originally purchased in 1994 and 1995 are still in service."We're the only department [in the City] that doesn't even have a vehicle replacement plan," he said.
The department's operating budget has shrunk from $455,098 in 2008 to just $156,896 in 2017, a drop of 65.52%. No provision has been made for repair or maintenance supplies. The equipment on hand has decreased from $108,638 in 2008 to just $23,396 this year. Only $35,000 is allotted to train 122 firefighters. A scant $3,500 is set aside to purchase chemicals that are often more important than water in extinguishing a fire.
"He is setting our department up for failure," said Warmkessel of Fed Ed.
Fortunately for Allentown residents, firefighter response time is still the same But how long can things stay that way? Doesn't it make sense to have firefighters respond to a fire with an engine instead of a pick up truck? "The person whose home we're coming to would like it," said Warmkessel. "If you need us, you want us there and you want us there quickly."
Maybe Fed Ed plans to put out fires by praying.