Borough of West Mayfield Committee

Fire Service Review

Committee News

Community Survey

The West Mayfield Fire Service Review Committee (FSRC) wants to hear directly from borough residents and taxpayers (past and present) regarding matters of fire prevention & fire protection. We welcome thoughtful comments, opinions, and accounts of experiences with local government, the West Mayfield Volunteer Fire Department, neighboring municipalities’ fire services, and citizens’ rights and obligations regarding fire prevention & fire protection matters. 

The Fire Service Review Committee

The FRSC page is a working project made public to promote open government, transparency, accuracy, and community engagement. The information appearing here is under constant revision. Some typographical errors may exist. Please bring any factual errors on this page to the attention of the committee. Only the committee’s final report to council (scheduled for the fall of 2024) should be considered official and binding. 

For many years, it seems, citizens of the Borough of West Mayfield have expressed serious concerns about the competence, readiness, and fiscal soundness of the borough’s current fire service provider–the West Mayfield Volunteer Fire Department (the Fire Department), to include the West Mayfield Firemen’s Relief Association.  It is important to understand these concerns, define and analyze them, and to evaluate them for what they may be–legitimate issues supported by facts or misguided perceptions.

CURRENT FIRE SERVICE

The West Mayfield Fire Department exists for one reason, to provide fire protection to the citizens of the borough.  Increasingly over the years, citizens have begun to openly question whether the Fire Department–in its current configuration–can fulfill this mission.  If so, to what degree: sufficiently or optimally?  There is no meaningful consensus among citizens. Some feel strongly that the Fire Department is still capable of doing its job. With a little more support, the Fire Department is worth maintaining and keeping within the community.  On the other hand, others feel strongly that the Fire Department can no longer provide an acceptable level of fire service, especially compared to the more capable fire services of our neighboring municipalities. To these citizens, it is time for our borough to de-certify the West Mayfield Volunteer Fire Department and contract with a professional service provider, as we did with law enforcement many years ago. Another group of citizens, perhaps the largest, wants to better understand the issues, critically review the situation, examine the facts, and then choose–all things considered–the most practicable course of action regarding our fire service.          

LEADERSHIP & STAFFING

Citizens have made public comments about “toxic” leadership within the fire department, resulting in resource mismanagement, staff unprofessionalism, and workplace rancor. Citizens have noticed that the fire department struggles to recruit and retain an optimal number of volunteer firefighters from the borough or surrounding communities. Moreover, citizens have expressed concerns about the qualifications, certifications, training,  and physical abilities of firefighters.    

REPORTING & ACCOUNTABILITY

Citizens have often complained that the fire department provides insufficient and untimely reporting to council as to its fire service activities, use of tax-payer funded resources such as fuel provided for official fire vehicles, and other such matters that might impact management decisions and operational quality of the fire department, and thus, the fire service it provides to the citizens. Despite having a standing “fire & police committee” on council, it has been noted that based on council meeting minutes since July 2019 the chair of the committee (also a line officer of the fire department and executive of the West Mayfield Firemen’s Relief Association) had nothing to report nearly 80% of the time. Additionally, it’s been noted that the fire department’s annual year-end report is trivial, lacking information, inconsistent, and irregular. Moreover, it’s been observed that council fails to recognize and challenge such inadequate reporting as unacceptable and unhelpful in their duty of oversight of the fire service.    

FUNDING & FINANCIAL STABILITY

Citizens have noticed a significant curtailing of fire department fundraising activities, including the long-running “all-you-can eat” Sunday breakfasts and Ladies Auxiliary soup sales during elections. Even direct fundraising within the community has ceased; fire department members no longer canvass neighborhoods or send mailings to residents seeking donations. It seems the fire department’s only appreciable fundraising efforts are centered on social hall rentals and proceeds generated from managing the borough’s park shelter rental concession. However, periodically the fire department would sponsor a car cruise activity, bake sale, and most recently it has engaged in “tip board” fundraising.  When asked publicly if the fire department is financially stable, leadership has said that it is but has never offered evidence to support this claim. In fact, fire department leadership has publicly refused to open its financial records to outside review.    

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

Citizens have also noticed that over the years the fire department has disengaged from community service as it relates to their mission. It currently does not provide any public education programming around fire safety and prevention, while many of our neighboring municipal fire departments do provide such services. However, the fire department still maintains its Halloween Night safety patrols and “Santa visits” by fire truck each December. Also, the fire department has granted the community occasional use of its social hall for council meetings (at no charge). Recent attempts by community members to use the social hall for the traditional borough holiday party have been contentious.     

LOCAL GOVERNMENT

While much of the fire service “debate” in our community tends to focus on the shortcomings of the fire department, many concerned citizens are raising critical questions about local government’s duty and obligation to provide citizens with fire prevention and fire protection. To what degree do our elected officials exercise their statutory duties of oversight and authority over municipal fire-related concerns? Does the borough adequately fund our fire service? Are our fire-related ordinances modern and up to date? To what degree does council concern itself with mutual aid agreements with neighboring fire services? And finally, in what ways do our elected officials keep citizens informed about the status and condition of its fire prevention and fire protection efforts?           

FUTURE FIRE SERVICE

Citizens have often heard fire department leadership defensively declare that they are an independent and autonomous organization; council has no legal jurisdiction over the fire department. This is only somewhat true, especially considering the daily operations and organizational workings of the fire department. However, the West Mayfield Volunteer Fire Department is the borough’s designated fire service provider, and the borough has authority to sever this relationship at its discretion. Moreover, the citizens have the power through a successful ballot initiative to force council to decertify the fire department. So the ultimate question for our community to decide is not what kind of fire department we are forced to accept, but what kind of fire service do we want, and are willing to work for?  What will be our ROI (return on investment)?, as they say in the business world. These questions are unknown at this time, but we must use this opportunity to decide the future of our fire service as a whole community. 

The Borough of West Mayfield council unanimously passed a general motion on February 8, 2024 to create the Fire Service Review Committee. The working motion below is intended to inform and guide the committee’s work.

Motion to establish an ad hoc committee for the purpose of reviewing the borough’s current fire service. 

WHEREAS, the Borough of West Mayfield is bound by Pennsylvania statutes, the Borough Code, and local ordinance to provide fire service ensuring the public safety and well being of citizens and to protect property; and

WHEREAS, the Borough of West Mayfield currently recognizes and designates the West Mayfield Volunteer Fire Department as its municipal fire service provider; and

WHEREAS, the Borough of West Mayfield has in the past and/or currently provides financial and in-kind support for the West Mayfield Volunteer Fire Department, including but not limited to revenue from Foreign Fire Insurance tax premiums; annual budget appropriations from the General Fund: vehicle parts, vehicle fuel, insurance & bonding, cash contribution, and minor machinery & equipment; and the Borough of West Mayfield has for many years granted the tax-payer owned park shelter rental concession to the West Mayfield Volunteer Fire Department to support the fire service, including providing administrative support for this enterprise via the borough’s website; and the Borough of West Mayfield has for many years granted a lease for $1 per annum to the West Mayfield Volunteer Fire Department to use the tax-payer owned property abutting the fire station (the parking lot); and

WHEREAS, in recent years citizens and elected officials have expressed serious concerns about the competence, readiness, and fiscal soundness of the borough’s current fire service, including a crisis in leadership and severe shortage of able-bodied and trained firefighters; and

WHEREAS, the Borough of West Mayfield has a statutory and moral duty to its citizens to investigate and evaluate such claims objectively and with diligence, and to report its findings to the citizens, including future recommendations for the fire service: therefore

A MOTION IS LAID UPON THE TABLE:

The Borough of West Mayfield council hereby establishes a fact-finding effort to review the competence, readiness, and fiscal soundness of the borough’s current fire service. Council shall appoint a special ad hoc committee (known as the “Fire Service Review Committee”) empowered to hold public hearings and, with permission from Council, to exercise subpoena powers as authorized by The Borough Code.

The president of council, with the advice and consent of council, shall appoint members to this committee, including no less than three (3) council members, three (3) citizens of the borough, and three (3) representatives of the West Mayfield Volunteer Fire Department. The president of council shall appoint a committee chair and receive regular updates from the chair about committee activities. Committee progress reports shall be presented at council’s regular monthly meetings and entered into the public record.

The Fire Service Review Committee shall be tasked with presenting its findings and recommendations to council and citizens regarding the Borough’s fire service within six months of its appointment.

 

AUTHORITY

  • The FSRC is a duly constituted special ad hoc committee. It was authorized by council by unanimous vote on February 8, 2024. 
  • If necessary, the FSRC will request council’s cooperation to compel persons of interest to the committee to appear as witnesses before a council hearing, as permitted by the Pennsylvania Borough Code: 

§ 1014.  Hearings before council; witnesses.

Councils may compel the attendance of witnesses and the production of books, papers or other evidence at any meeting of the council or any committee of the council and for that purpose may issue subpoenas, signed by the president of council or the chair of the committee, which shall be served in any part of this Commonwealth. If a witness refuses to testify to any fact within the witness’s knowledge or to produce any books or papers in the witness’s possession or control required to be used as evidence in any case, the borough solicitor shall report the facts relating to the refusal to the court of common pleas. If the court determines the evidence required of the witness to be legal and competent, it shall order the witness to testify or produce the evidence required.

REPORTING

  • The FSRC will provide public progress reports to council each month.
  • The FSRC will present an oral and written final report to council. This will conclude the committee’s work.  

ACCOUNTABILITY

The FSRC is accountable to the president of council. 

MISSION

The mission of the Fire Service Review Committee is to analyze and evaluate West Mayfield’s current fire service, and to report its findings of fact and evidence-based recommendations to council.


GOALS

  1. FSRC seeks to fully understand the Borough of West Mayfield’s legislative, financial, and legal duties of oversight, obligation, and responsibility regarding the community’s fire service.
  2. FRSC seeks to fully understand the working status of our current fire service, including 1) the first-response readiness/competency of the West Mayfield Volunteer Fire Department (WMVFD, our designated fire service provider); 2) the condition of borough infrastructure as it relates to firefighting needs (e.g., hydrants, water supply); 3) the level of community-based outreach and education related to fire prevention and safety programming; 4) the level of financial support and sustainability from municipal, fire department, and community sources; and FRSC seek to understand the working relationship between the WMVFD and of our neighboring municipalities/mutual aid partners.
  3. FRSC seeks to understand the current fire service ecosystem (i.e., the working relationships between and among our neighboring municipal fire services).
  4. FRSC seeks to understand the nature of the relationship between citizens and fire prevention and fire protection concerns, local government, and the fire department.
  5. FRSC seeks to use its findings of fact to inform recommendations for improving the future of West Mayfield’s fire service.

OBJECTIVES

  1. To form a working committee with representation from council, citizens, and WMVFD
  2. To create a publicly available FSRC webpage to share findings (research, data) and recommendations.
  3. To hold monthly FSRC work-meetings.
  4. To provide council with monthly FSRC updates.
  5. To hold a series of listening events with various interests and concerns (“stake holders”).
  6. To deliver to council a written report detailing FSRC’s findings and recommendations.

FIRE SERVICE REVIEW COMMITTEE

Council Representation 

  • Janet Helbig (council co-chair)
  • Jeff Seybert
  • Bob Tate (ex-official)

Citizens Representation

  • Kevin Farkas, citizen co-chair (farkas.kj@gmail.com)
  • Bob Kaib
  • Tracy Popovich
  • Jan Johnston-Szopo
  • Janet Jurich Pico 
  • Sue Wood

Fire Department Representation (non council members)

  • Mike Caler (tbc – WMVFD co-chair)
  • Wendy Harker
  • Jamie Hoskinson

NOTE: FSRC working meetings are held in accordance with the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act, 65 Pa.C.S. §§ 701-716.  As such, FSRC working meetings are not public agency meetings, unless otherwise constituted and advertised as a “prearranged gathering of an agency which is attended or participated in by a quorum of the members of an agency held for the purpose of deliberating agency business or taking official action.”  However, the FSRC is not opposed to public attendance at working meetings where practical and at the discretion of the FSRC.    

FEBRUARY

  • February 8, 2024: Council unanimously passes motion to create Fire Service Review Committee (FSRC)
  • February 14: FSRC webpage created on borough website

MARCH

  • March 7: FSRC Working Session (Topic: Steering) 
  • March 14: FSRC Report to Council

APRIL

  • April 4: FSRC Working Session (Topic: Citizens Perspectives) 
  • April 6: FSRC Community Survey (online)
  • April 11: FSRC Report to Council
  • April 23: FSRC Survey Table at Election
  • April 24: Listening Session: Community (see Facebook event)
  • April 27: Listening Session: Community (see Facebook event)

MAY

  • TBA: FSRC Working Session (Topic: Fire Service Ecosystem)
  • TBA: Listening Session: Neighboring Mutual-Aid Municipalities, others
  • TBA: Listening Session: Beaver Falls Fire Department
  • May 9: FSRC Report to Council

JUNE

  • TBA: FSRC Working Session (Local Government, Finances & Economic Issues)
  • TBA: Listening Session: WMVFD
  • June 13: FSRC Report to Council

JULY

  • TBA: FSRC Working Session (Topic: Current Fire Service Provider)
  • July 11: FSRC Report to Council

AUGUST

  • TBA: FSRC Working Session (Draft findings)
  • August 8: FSRC Report to Council

SEPTEMBER

  • September 12: Final Report and Recommendations to Council

February 8, 2024: Council votes unanimously to create the Fire Service Review Committee (FSRC)

February 15, 2024: Council president Tate tasks Kevin Farkas to constitute committee. Outreach begins. Informal invitation sent via social media to WMVFD Chief Lou Little, c/o WMVFD secretary Mike Caler, seeking fire dept. representation on the committee.

February 23, 2024: FSRC Friday Update sent to committee members.  Formal letter sent via social media to WMVFD Chief Lou Little, c/o WMVFD secretary Mike Caler, seeking fire dept. representation on the committee.  

March 1, 2024: FSRC Friday Update sent to committee members.

March 7, 2024: FSRC held first in-person “steering” meeting. Letter sent via first class mail to WMVFD Chief Lou Little, c/o WMVFD secretary Mike Caler, seeking fire dept. representation on the committee.   

March 8, 2024: FSRC Friday Update sent to committee members. 

March 14, 2024: FSRC citizen-co chair Kevin Farkas delivers committee progress report to council. Formal in-person request made to WMVFD Chief Lou Little seeking fire dept. representation on the committee by March 28, 2024. Also, request made to WMVFD Chief Lou Little seeking complete and unabridged copy of the latest ISO fire rating audit by March 28, 2024.

March 15, 2024: FSRC Friday Update sent to committee members. 

March 16, 2024: WMVFD submits nominations for FSRC representation: Michael Caler, Wendy Harker, Jamie Hoskinson.

March 20, 2024: Committee sends letter via first class mail to WMVFD Chief Lou Little, c/o WMVFD secretary Mike Caler, in response to the fire department’s accomodation requests. 

March 22, 2024: FSRC Friday Update sent to committee members. 

April 4, 2024: FSRC holds April in-person work meeting.   

April 6, 2024: FSRC makes available Community Survey (online and in print), publishes FSRC Flyer 

April 11, 2024: FSRC citizen-co chair Kevin Farkas delivers committee progress report to council. Borough solicitor Joe Budicak presents council with memo clarifying the legal and statutory relationship between borough government and the West Mayfield Volunteer Fire Department. 

April 15, 2024: FSRC sends letter to Verisk seeking ISO Fire Report.

April 23, 2024: FSRC sets up Community Survey Table at election

April 24, 2024: FSRC holds Community Listening Event

April 27, 2024: FSRC holds Community Listening Event

GENERAL AREAS OF INQUIRY

CLICK A TAB TO VISIT A TOPIC