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South Whitehall board approves changes to volunteer firefighter pay incentives

By Sarit laschinsky

Special to The Press

South Whitehall commissioners have approved updates to the township’s volunteer firefighter pay-per-call incentives program and payouts.

Fire Commissioner Chris Kiskeravage said, at the board’s Aug. 5 virtual meeting that, with the new scaling, instead of $7.50 per call, rates start at $5 per call for junior and probationary firefighters and increases to $7.50 when recruits are out of probation.

Additional money, up to a maximum of $10 per call, would be added depending on years of service and the different certifications a firefighter receives, such as vehicle rescue technician, EMT or fire police.

Kiskeravage also asked that, if adopted, the township apply the incentive rate changes to the fire companies’ third and fourth quarter payouts in 2020.

Board members voiced their support for the volunteer firefighters’ service and dedication.

Commissioner Mike Wolk said he approved of the increases as a means of recognition and reward, adding firefighters should be encouraged to increase their certifications and years of experience.

“So they become even more capable and prepared to protect our township families,” Wolk said.

Commissioner Diane Kelly said Greenawalds Fire Company is celebrating its 100th anniversary in October and reflected on the longstanding affect of volunteer firefighters.

She suggested the fire companies’ second quarter payouts follow the new incentive rate.

Board President Christina “Tori” Morgan, however, noted the payments were originally due to start in 2021 and had been recommended to begin in the third and fourth quarters of this year.

She said while incentives are extremely important, they must be kept in consideration with other essential operations and expenses paid from the fire fund.

Additionally, during the discussion, Commissioner Matthew Mobilio mentioned statements made by Kelly during the April and June board meetings about putting a hold on nonessential spending and protecting township finances during COVID-19.

He said her comments were “directly in play and in issue” with raising incentive rates.

Kelly repeatedly objected, saying volunteer firefighters do not fall under nonessential spending and calling for Mobilio to refrain from unrelated personal comments.

In other business, Police Chief Glen Dorney reported the Lehigh County Chief of Police Association has opened its consortium test for entry-level officers for the 12 departments in Lehigh County.

The online application is available at lehighcountypolicetest.com, and will be accepted until Sept. 11, with the written exam on Sept. 26 and physical assessment Oct. 3.

During courtesy of the floor, Jacob Roth spoke about ongoing themes he had noticed in recent board meetings, including that night’s meeting.

“The bemoaning of board members by other board members is deeply concerning for me as a citizen of the township,” he said.

He also spoke about the discussion of firefighter incentives.

“It is incredibly low and despicable for a certain commissioner to berate another commissioner and use the opportunity as a political soapbox to attack them for wanting to look into the issue more,” Roth said, adding it was irresponsible and unsettling to use the subject to make a cheap political argument.

Roth reminded commissioners they were all equals and said having open, respectful and considerate discussions was important for the board and the community.

Roth said if certain commissioners were unable to do so, they lacked the “authority” to sit on the board.

Bryan Panella spoke to the board about unprofessional conduct by members of the Cetronia Fire Department in response to a recent fire call at his home.

Panella said he had evacuated everybody, reported to responding police that he was a volunteer firefighter and left to make sure his department’s engines left the station.

Upon returning home, Panella said the fire chief “made it quite clear” over the radio several times that no windows would be broken, but said Cetronia firefighters disregarded the orders and broke one of his windows and four of his neighbor’s.

Panella also said an assistant chief broke a bathroom cabinet and acted unprofessionally, adding several shoving matches occurred after Panella told him to get out.

He said this was not the first instance of unprofessional conduct or broken windows by Cetronia firefighters, and he had been in contact with Kiskeravage,

Kiskeravage said he spoke with the firefighters and would get back to Panella on the issue.