Washies and What’s Going On
by Brian Coll
So, we are all back after a long holiday weekend. In case you missed it, members of the Washington Fire Company #1 were out in force at the July 3rd Fireworks hosted by Conshohocken borough. July 4th, all was quiet expect for Fayette Street were the annual Soap Box Derby was taking place. July 5th, at around 7 in the morning firetrucks at Washies were being stripped of gear and the trucks were driven away from the firehouse. The Borough of Conshohocken put out this statement at the time:
The Borough of Conshohocken did not close Washington Fire Company on Friday, July 5, 2019. The Borough did remove Borough-owned equipment from Washington Fire Company, while the Borough attempts to work through administrative and operational items with the fire company’s management team. That equipment is being housed at, and will be dispatched from, Conshohocken Fire Company No. 2 until further notice. The County has been informed of this operational change. The health and safety of the Borough’s residents, businesses and visitors is paramount. Therefore, the Borough of Conshohocken has taken deliberate steps to ensure it continues to deliver the same level and quality of fire service protection to our residents, businesses and visitors during this time. Please contact Borough Hall at 610-828-1092 with any questions or concerns.
However, this statement was put out a little after 12:00 on Friday and the offices closed at 12:30 leaving a lot of questions unanswered.
Then on Saturday this was put out on the Borough of Conshohocken website and social media pages:
Posted: July 6, 2019 | Announcements
The Borough of Conshohocken has received questions and concerns regarding Public Safety as it pertains to Washington Fire Company. The decision to place Washington Fire Company out of service with Montgomery County was not made without first making certain that Borough residents, businesses and visitors would continue to receive the same level and quality of fire service protection. The Borough’s Fire Chief worked diligently through this process to ensure that the Borough had a fully operational Fire Department at all times. He is confident that the services and apparatus in place are more than sufficient to handle any emergency situation in the Borough.
Please note that the only tangible change as it relates to responding to emergencies in our Borough is that the same equipment and individuals that previously responded to fire calls from two different fire stations located 9 blocks away from each other are now being dispatched from one central location, Fire Company #2. This central location provides the Borough with an emergency response that is never farther than a 9 block radius.
Fire Company #2 is a fully equipped Fire Company which now houses the Borough’s Ladder Truck. On July 5th, equipment owned by Washington Fire Company was removed from Borough trucks previously stored there, and immediately replaced by equipment owned by Fire Company #2. In other words, during this entire process, the Borough always had a full complement of fire apparatus ready to be deployed to effectively and safely handle any type of emergency.
Additionally, all Worker’s Compensation coverages were maintained for all volunteer firefighters in Conshohocken regardless of station affiliation to ensure they were protected when responding to an emergency situation. The Fire Chief notified all volunteers firefighters that they could respond to fire calls from Fire Company #2.
To reiterate, the Borough has always had a fully functioning Fire Department. Even during this process, there were four paid firefighters on location to handle calls if necessary. We would like to take this opportunity to thank our residents, businesses and visitors for their patience and support. We would also like to thank our mutual aid partners. We understand that change is difficult. We understand that this process has been difficult for Washington Fire Company. We also understand that this process was difficult for Conshohocken Fire Company #2 but they have been fully cooperative throughout the entire process and we appreciate that immensely.
The safety of our Borough is paramount. As we continue to diligently work through this process, rest assured that our men and women that sacrifice their lives to protect others still have the equipment and resources available to them so they can do their jobs and we thank them for their service.
Now, here we are today. Our borough has one functional firehouse. Before I go any further. I need to tell you my thoughts. I trust our fire companies, not only the ones we have in the borough of Conshohocken, but those in the community. We have some amazing volunteer fire fighters and personal. These people leave their homes in the middle of night or leave work to go protect us. We are lucky to have so many fire companies and fire fighters and I’d be arguing for more. More volunteers, more paid drivers, more trucks, more gear.
In my opinion, our borough just lost. No matter what comes of this, we lost. We lost trust. The men and women of the Washington Fire Company or the Washies have always been there for us, for all of us. Whether you know it or not, every night when you go to bed, you are trusting that a stranger will be there in the middle of the night to help save you, your house, your family. No matter what caused this, there had to be a better way to handle it. This didn’t happen at 7:00 a.m. on the 5th of July, there were moves put into place in advance of this that no one has talked about. A unit that protects firefighters at Conshohocken Fire Company #2 from exhaust had to be removed to fit the large ladder truck into the building. Other trucks that were taken have been moved to a location that the borough owns. Do firefighters have to respond to a location away from the normal fire companies to get on a truck? So, this didn’t happen because one person woke up on the 5th and thought it would be a good idea. Many people had to discuss this in advance. Back to the trust…. our fire companies and personal had to trust each other, with their lives. These men and women would go into horrible situations and had to trust that the person holding the hose with them, or directing them into a burning building had their best interest and their brotherhood of firefighters backs. Now….. now I don’t know. I’ve worked with members of both of our boroughs fire companies on numerous occasions. I think we have some amazing volunteers here, some great men and women and I would like to think there isn’t a competition. I would like to think that members of both companies feel awkward about this whole situation and when it’s resolved they can get back to the business of protecting out community. Together. Maybe I’m wrong. I’ve never went into a burning building, I’ve never had to trust the person telling me to go into the building. I would like to think when the smoke clears that this was a misunderstanding, that there is no motive behind this move, just a big mistake and that fire fighters from both companies can work together to protect our community.
Washies…. I don’t have all the numbers. I’m going to guess that there are about 50 people impacted by this move. What I mean, is there about probably 10-20 firefighters at Washies, I’m not sure how many of them get to make the fire calls, but I know it’s more than most of us. Beyond the fire fighters, you have a board, a ladies auxiliary and other personal. You have families that work together to host events. There are so many intangibles that can’t be factored in here…. the parades, the work these men and women do in the community, the hospitality, the smiles these men and women put on kids faces when they are out and about in the community.
I trust that the borough of Conshohocken didn’t do this on a whim and they have looked at maps and studies and I’m sure the people behind the decisions think they are doing the right thing and have our best interest at heart. However, the studies, the maps, the response times all listed will never factor in a major tragedy. You have to look back about 10 years for the worst fire in the history of Conshohocken. About 40 years ago for the worst tragedy in the history of West Conshohocken. Thank God for our first responders. Thank god for Washies, Thank god for Conshohocken Fire Company #2, we need more firefighters, we need more fire trucks, we need more good people.
Washies, Borough of Conshohocken. Figure this out. Elected officials, do the right thing, not because you are up for election, do the right thing for the people of the borough, for the people of the community. this decision goes beyond Conshohocken. If there is a fire right now in Plymouth, the call is going out for firefighters. What happens when the fire alarm goes off in Conshohocken and our firefighters from #2 are at one place? How fast does Barren Hill get here? How fast does George Clay cross that bridge?
Just my opinion, but if we don’t figure this out, we all lost.