Our View | Another important moment in comeback of Port Matilda fire company

December 8, 2013 

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Port Matilda Fire Company volunteers demonstrate extricating a person from a vehicle on Friday, August 12, 2011 at Minitab. The company hosted a safety clinic for employees and their children which included visits from fire trucks, ambulances and Lifeflight helicopter.

CHRISTOPHER WEDDLE — CDT photo

The Port Matilda Fire Department is at another moment of transition with the abrupt resignation of the six members of the company’s independent finance committee.

The department’s members must now move forward responsibly, and with support from the residents of the communities it serves.

The committee was formed in 2005, when the fire company was in deep financial trouble, facing foreclosure on its building and other assets.

Before stepping down en masse Tuesday at a meeting of the Upper Bald Eagle/Halfmoon Council of Governments, committee members had helped the fire company rebound financially and regain the trust of the community.

COG Chairwoman Barbara Spencer called the finance committee “a lifesaver,” but also noted that to have all six members step down together “is not healthy for the fire company and for our community.”

A new plan must be in place by year’s end or the fire department will have no one authorized to handle payment of its expenses.

It is unfortunate that the finance team found itself in what member Rita Young called an “uncomfortable and unkind” environment. Young served as treasurer for the fire department.

We applaud the committee for literally bringing the fire company back from the brink of disaster. But we must chide them for giving so little notice of their shared decision.

Comments by committee chief Lee Pressler suggest that there are hard feelings at play in the decision. But none of what we heard described seemed insurmountable, or even a situation that couldn’t have been endured until replacement volunteers had been recruited and trained.

And we agree with Port Matilda Fire Chief Rich Sutton, who said he wants to see the committee continue to function. The group was formed with a 10-year plan in place.

“We are firefighters, we don’t want the checkbook,” Sutton said. “We fight fires, we help people.”

And preserving that duty is the only goal that matters.

Property values and access to insurance, not to mention general public safety, are at stake.

The Port Matilda fire company has a huge responsibility, covering a large geographic area that includes all or parts of four townships (Huston, Worth, Halfmoon and Taylor) and the borough of Port Matilda.

The region includes a mix of growing residential areas, farmland and mountainous terrain. Interstate 99 cuts through the company’s coverage area, creating added responsibility many rural departments don’t face.

And it’s not easy running a fire department. Port Matilda isn’t the first or last company to encounter financial, equipment and manpower challenges.

Fire company leaders and members must be fully committed to moving forward and remaining solvent, with or without a finance committee.

And if the committee remains, residents will need to step forward and offer their talents to the cause.

Bright and dedicated individuals have helped elevate the fire company’s situation since 2005. More such volunteers may be needed.

“We need to think about the health of the fire company,” Spencer said at the Tuesday meeting where the panelists resigned.

We agree, and we would add that the health of any fire company is yoked to the welfare of the community it serves.

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