BP VFC holds open house prior to elections

Published May 20, 2013 at 4:36 pm (Updated May 20, 2013 at 4:36 pm)

The Kawowski family watched in awe recently as members of the Bethel Park Volunteer Fire Company fought a house fire in their neighborhood.

“It was really amazing,” said Melissa Kawowski. “We got to see how they reacted. It was very reassuring.”

Kawowski and her daughters were among the many residents who attended an open house on May 19 at the company’s main station on Brightwood Road.

The event included displays of the company’s rescue vehicles and equipment, as well as hands on demonstrations of fire safety. Children got to test their skills at using a real fire hose to put out a mock fire and were taught to escape from a burning house. There were also drills teaching skills such as “stop, drop and roll” and how to crawl on the floor when escaping a smoke filled home. In addition, firefighters demonstrated how they used specialized tools to rescue victim of vehicle accidents.

The members of the all-volunteer company also used the event to show residents the plans for a new fire station and to ask them to vote yes on a referendum, which will appear on the May 21 primary election ballot.

On Feb. 11 Bethel Park Council voted to place the referendum question, which would change the home rule charter to enact a tax for the purpose of constructing a new fire station and to fund the annual operating costs of the 85-year-old fire company.

The proposed tax would mean residents would pay $34 for every $100,000 in property value for the tax. The average house value in Bethel Park is estimated to be $142,000, according to Allegheny County assessments.

Fire company members have said that donations have fallen of so drastically that they can no long afford to operate the company on their own.

Council, the majority of whom have pledged their support of the fire company, said they put the referendum on the ballot so that the question would be up to the voters. In addition, changing the home rule charter means that the tax can not be changed without another referendum.

A dedicated fire tax would cost the voters much less than having to fund a paid company, the volunteers have said.

Many of those attending the open house said they had no idea that the fire company was in such dire straits or that the referendum would be on the ballot.

“I don’t know why,” said Councilwoman Lorrie Gibbons. “We have been talking about it at every meeting.”

Those learning about the referendum for the first time said they sympathized with the fire company’s plight and that they saw a need to enact the tax.

“I think you have to do that to do what has to be done,” said Laura Lubawy, who was at the open house with her young son. “Donations are down unfortunately.”

Firefighters said they intend to be stationed at polling places tomorrow to answer voter’s questions.

“I hope they remember (the fire company) when they get into that election booth,” said Jimmy Vehar, a life member of the fire company.

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