Berwyn, Paoli and Radnor Volunteer Firefighters . . . Our Hometown Heroes!

Strafford Station Apartment fire, photo by Berwyn Fire Company photographer, Jim DeStefano, Sr

Saturday morning, with frigid temperatures in the teens, a fire broke out at the Strafford Station Apartments, which is close to the Strafford train station. The initial 9-1-1 call came in to the Berwyn Fire Company at 9:25 AM. Berwyn’s Engine 2-3 raced to the fire, arriving at 9:31 AM, reporting that fire was coming from the 3rd floor. Also rushing to the initial first alarm call were firefighters from Paoli and Radnor fire companies. The Tredyffrin Police assisted with the evacuation of the first and second floors of the apartment building, as the blaze quickly went through the 40-unit building. A ‘working fire’ was dispatched at 9:28 AM . . . A second alarm was requested at 9:35 AM . . . and at 10:02 AM a third alarm was requested for the Strafford fire.

As dark billowing smoke shot into the morning air, residents had very little time to get out, grabbing what they could as they raced from their apartments. Thrust in to the cold, the residents were grateful for their lives but were left trying to cope with their sudden loss.

Local firefighters battling Strafford Station Apartment Fire, photo by Berwyn Fire Company photographer Jim DeStefano, Sr

The landlord and the Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania are coordinating help for the victims. The Red Cross assisted 60 people who were forced out of their homes by the fire. They distributed money and food to anyone who was in need, and their medical personnel refilled lifesaving prescriptions for several tenants on the scene. The landlord aided the displaced tenants with temporary relocation to local hotels.

By the time the third alarm was requested for the Strafford Station Apartment fire, Berwyn, Paoli and Radnor fire companies were joined by volunteers from an additional thirteen fire companies*. Fire company apparatus responded from Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties. The fire extended into the roof and then traveled the roofline horizontally from one end of the building to another, gutting 24 apartment units in its wake.

Interior photo of gutted Strafford Station Apartment, which displaced 60 residents. Photo by Berwyn Fire Company photographer Jim DeStefano, Sr.

 At the height of the fire, over 100 volunteer fire/emergency service personnel were on the scene. The fire brought under control around 11 AM and the final fire units cleared the scene just after 3 PM. The Strafford Station Apartment fire is under investigation by the Chester County and Pennsylvania State Police Fire Marshals. Early comment is that the accidental fire may be the result of a second floor heating unit. Damage is estimated at $1.25 million.

It was a stroke of fortune that no one was killed or injured as a result of yesterday’s three-alarm fire. Please join me in saluting our local volunteer firefighters from Berwyn, Paoli and Radnor fire companies . . . thank you for your quick response and for protecting our residents.

____________________________

*In addition to Berwyn, Paoli and Radnor fire companies, the following compaies also responded to the Strafford Station Apartment fire: Malvern Fire Company
East Whiteland Volunteer Fire Association, Newtown Square Fire Company, Valley Forge Volunteer Fire Company, King of Prussia Volunteer Fire Company, Goshen Fire Company, Bryn Mawr Fire Company, Gladwyne Fire Company, Lionville Fire Company, Narberth Ambulance, Lafeyette Ambulance (Upper Merion), Good Fellowship Ambulance (West Chester), and Phoenixville Fire Department Ambulance.

 

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Fire Company ePetition Administrator Speaks Out

I am hoping that this will be the last entry on the firefighter’s ePetition.  Last week, I posted TTRC Chair CT Alexander’s Letter to the Editor in which he stated that he signed the firefighter’s ePetition.  Research on the ePetition showed that his name was not on the list which caused a major debate about whether or not Mr. Alexanders’ name was simply removed.  Only one person who could answer those accusations – Laurie Elliot, the firefighter’s ePetition administrator.  It only seems fair that I post her response on the subject – a Letter to the Editor which is in this week’s Main Line Suburban Life.

Included in her statement, Laurie includes a link to the ePetition if anyone wants to check the signatures.  Laurie created the ePetition as a vehicle for residents (like herself) to show their support of the fire companies and to encourage the supervisors to reinstate the fire companies budget cut.

On the same subject, it has been a month since the unveiling of the cardboard check at the December 21 Board of Supervisor Meeting.  To bring you up-to-date on the promised contributions, yesterday I emailed Supervisors Lamina, Kampf and Olson for an update on money collected.  My latest information is that the supervisors have collected $8,950. I am hopeful that more money has been turned over to the Berwyn Fire Company for distribution, but as of today I have no further updates.  On the $5K in matching funds from the Tredyffrin Township Republican Committee, Mr. Alexander’s last correspondence indicated that just about all that money has been delivered to the fire company.  In my last phone call from Supervisor Olson, he stated that the $23,200 total would be delivered to the fire company by March 31st. 

This is all about making sure that the volunteer firefighters receive their promised money — nothing more, no political agenda on my part.  Since the township’s 2010 budget was passed with the fire department cut, I take it seriously to make sure that these volunteers receive the total contribution as promised by Supervisors Kampf, Lamina and Olson.

Fire companies need support

To the Editor:

This is in response to a letter in last week’s paper by Tredyffrin Republican Party chair John C.T. Alexander. In it he claims to have signed the “Internet petition in favor of reinstatement of the Berwyn Fire Company’s budget cut from the [Tredyffrin] township’s 2010 budget.”

As the administrator of that e-petition, I monitored it during its 10-day online life and closed it on Dec. 21 when I presented a copy of it to the Board of Supervisors at their meeting that evening. The petition and all those who signed it can still be viewed at tredto.epetitions.net.

In total, 534 people found their way to the Web site and signed the petition. But John C.T. Alexander’s name is not among them.

Further, it is difficult to understand why Mr. Alexander would claim he signed it. His very public position that the long-term needs of our volunteer fire companies can be met through ad-hoc private donations misses the whole point of the petition and clings to a Band-Aid approach.

The fire companies not only needed their 2010 funding restored, but they need a comprehensive, long-term solution that provides support for their operating and capital expenditures in the future. And not until such a plan is in place can the community “move on” as some are suggesting.

Sincerely,

Laurie Elliott, Wayne

Letter to the Editor . . . TTGOP Chair CT Alexander Takes on Retired Supervisor Bill DeHaven

Just when I think that we are ‘moving on’ as the title of a Letter to the Editor in this week’s Main Line Suburban Life would indicate, I am immediately taken back to that December meeting when the ‘cardboard check’ to the firefighters reared its’ ugly head. Below is a letter from TTGOP Chair CT Alexander to Bill DeHaven that was listed under the category of ‘Support of Berwyn Fire Company’ in the paper’s opinion index.  The letter from Mr. Alexander  which comments on Bill’s ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’ cable TV show, and the suggestion that Bill & Co. is beating an old horse certainly caused me pause this morning.

All I can say is unbelievable to Mr. Alexander’s letter!

OK, let’s revisit the cardboard check of 2009 and where we stand with contributions to date.  How much of the $23,200 promised money has been delivered to date?  The last time that Supervisor Olson called me, the total turned over to the Berwyn Fire Company was $8,950 (that total was several weeks ago). When we last spoke, Supervisor Olson said that he would call me when he delivered the next contribution installment to the fire company.  I have not received any further calls, so should I think that there’s been no further contributions?  I think we need an update, don’t you?

As for Mr. Alexander, where does he stand with his $5K contribution in matching funds to the firefighters from the TTGOP?  Can I assume that since Mr. Alexander is calling Bill DeHaven out over this matter, that his organization has made their total contribution as they promised last month?  As follow-up I will email CT and let you know if I have an update on that front. I’m wondering if Bill or Dan (Bill’s sidekick as quoted from Mr. Alexander) have any response to this Letter to the Editor? Let me know if you have a comment; I’ll be glad to publish.

Since I’m on the topic of the firefighters and the Firefighters Holiday Drive, can I ask that Berwyn give us an accounting at Monday’s Board of Supervisor Meeting on the contributions to date.  From someone who has done a bit of fundraising, getting the commitment of the gift is one thing, . . .  it’s the collection that often times proves the most challenging.  I know many of our residents were confused and thought that the presentation of the cardboard check meant that the fundraisers had that money is hand already — folks, that was a promise check . . . there’s still collection required for that $23,200.

Here’s CT Alexander’s Letter to the Editor:

   It’s time to move on

To the Editor:

Watching TV Channel 2 the other night I observed Berwyn icon Bill DeHaven and his sidekick using valuable air time to excoriate a political mailer from an election that took place over a month ago, akin to “beating a dead horse.” From earlier shows I remember Bill’s encouragement to sign an Internet petition in favor of re-instatement of the Berwyn Fire Company’s budget cut from the [Tredyffrin] township’s 2010 budget. I signed that petition and added that I had a plan. Thereafter, through a timely and generous private-sector outpouring, that shortfall was eliminated and then some.

This is a great opportunity for Bill & Co. to turn his attention to asking those same petition-signers – all 500-plus – to write a check for $10 and send it to Berwyn Fire Company to show tangible evidence of your support – “put your money where you vote was.” In no time the fire company would realize a windfall of $5,000, doubling the matching grant of the private citizens that inspired the whole public solicitation in the first place, thus funding an innovated fund-raising mailer scheduled for January 2010 piggybacking township tax notices.

Bill, it’s time: stop beating a dead horse – start beating the drums of support for Berwyn Fire Company!

John C.T. Alexander, Strafford

P.S. It’s tax-deductible!

Tredyffrin Township 2010 Budget Could be in Jeopardy – as well as the School District Budget

The Philadelphia Business Journal is reporting that there are plans underway in the next couple of weeks for the introduction of the Property Tax Emergency Relief Act. Pennsylvania State Rep Steve Santarsiero intends to introduce this legislation that would provide a one-year break for property tax to anyone who has been unemployed for three months or long.

Santarsiero emphasized that the legislation would not forgive the taxes that are due, but would instead provide a one-year grace period. Under the Property Tax Emergency Relief Act, anyone unemployed for a minimum of 3 months could request a temporary exemption from paying property taxes for one year. The taxes would then be repaid, without penalty or interest, in quarterly installments over the following four years. Should the Act pass, the legislation would be in effect through the end of 2011.

Santarsiero was quoted as saying, “I don’t believe that anyone should lose their home because they cannot afford their tax obligation as a result of unemployment in this difficult economy, which we all hope will begin to pick up in the coming months.”

While I support the effort of the state to help give the unemployed a break with their property taxes, the Property Tax Emergency Relief Act certainly has the potential to play havoc with the approved 2010 township budget and the potential to increase the $9.3 million deficit in the 2010-11 school district budget.

Tredyffrin Township Neighbor Raising Taxes for the First Time in 30 Years . . . to Help with Open Land and Historic Preservation Protection

I read an interesting article in yesterday’s Daily Local about one of our neighbors, West Pikeland Township.  If you are not sure where West Pikeland is located — this is the location of Chester Springs and historic Yellow Springs in the Rt. 113 area.   This is a township that is very protective of open space (West Pikeland Land Trust) and historic preservation (historic Yellow Springs on Art School Road). 

West Pikeland Township has increased its land ownership significantly over the last 10 years.  The township made a lot of modifications/improvements in the township to satisfy the residents and help the local non-profits, particularly historic preservation.  Due to increased open land purchases, a lot of revenue was lost.  The township does not have large developments and therefore does not have developers helping with parks and services and no homeowner fees to maintain the parks, etc.  This is interesting information because back in November when West Pikeland Township’s Board of Supervisors were discussing the 2010 budget, the community’s residents not only applauded their approval of a motion to increase the property’s taxes but also encouraged the supervisors to raise them higher!

This week the West Pikeland Board of Supervisors voted to reopen the township’s budget in order to increase taxes once again.  The board will increase taxes for the first time in approximately 30 years when it moved from 0.125 up to 0.2 mills.  But the plan now is to move the tax rate to 0.5 mills, quadrupling the 2009 tax rate.  The motion to reopen the budget and increase taxes will be used specifically for maintenance and infrastructure in the township.  Although the supervisors recognized that these are difficult times, it was also recognized by supervisors that taxes have not been increased in 30 years.  The community residents openly supports continued open land purchases and contributions to preserving historic resources but it is understood that there is also a cost to maintain the township’s infrastructure.  Residents currently pay between $30 and $40 per year in property taxes in West Pikeland on the average. Now they will pay between $120 and $160.  I know, I know, their property taxes are very low but I am still fascinated that because West Pikeland Board of Supervisors and residents hold open land purchase and historic preservation protection in such high regard, that they will applaud a tax increase that will essentially quadruple the 2009 rate.  As an aside, the township cuts its expenses by 10% in the initial budget process.

I offer this as interesting local information on a neighboring municipality. Historic Yellow Springs and the surrounding West Pikeland area offers some of the most beautiful Chester County vistas.

Other Side in Tredyffrin

Malvern resident Kathleen Keohane offered her opinion on the Firefighter’s Holiday Drive in this week’s edition of the Main Line Suburban.

Other side in Tredyffrin

To the Editor:

I’d like to respond to a letter in last week’s newspaper by Tredyffrin supervisors Bob Lamina and Paul Olson. It artfully attempts to reframe a series of controversial actions taken by the board over the last month but in my view fails miserably.

 Messrs. Lamina and Olson, along with fellow supervisor Warren Kampf, made the evening news several weeks ago when they presented a giant cardboard check representing funds they’d raised for the township’s three fire companies. The facsimile represented pledges from the community to cover the amount they’d voted to cut from the 2010 budget two weeks before.

This effort by these three “citizen-supervisors,” as they called themselves, was an unnecessary exercise because these cuts should never have been made in the first place. In the absence of dire financial circumstances, adequate funding for our fire companies should never have come under the ax – a position held by surrounding communities that also struggled with this year’s budgets but kept fire funding intact.

Also, in an effort to tie the grand gesture of soliciting for contributions to our fire companies to Republican Party politics, our elected township supervisors perverted their roles as public officials. Much was made of the party’s pledge of “matching funds” both in Lamina and Olson’s letter and at the township’s final BOS meeting. But the money came from individuals who are members of the party and not the party. Yet the windy speech given by the chair of the TTRC before Channel 3 cameras made the source of the funds unclear.

The source of the other contributions opens up a can of worms as well. Do they represent funds normally raised by the fire companies that will cause their separate fund-raising projections to be overly optimistic? Will the funds be allocated according to the individual fire-company cuts or according to the location of the donor? Isn’t there some concern that funds were solicited from companies doing business with the township? For example the law firm of Lamb McErlane contributed in December and one of its partners was reappointed township solicitor on Jan. 4. Liberty Property Trust made a contribution and it will bring a matter before the board sometime this year involving the possible condemnation of land to build an access road. Even the slightest whiff of pay-to-play should be avoided.

In my view this face-saving fund-raising activity should never be repeated. While the community’s support for the fire companies in the form of annual contributions should be encouraged, our supervisors’ job is to oversee the safety and proper maintenance of our township and to allocate our tax dollars accordingly. Over 500 residents signed a petition asking that the budget cuts to our fire companies be restored. I believe that given more time and awareness, an overwhelming number of Tredyffrin residents would have signed it. There’s no political divide on this issue. Safety comes first.

Going forward we need to establish a citizen group in Tredyffrin, made up of fire and township officials, community businesspeople and concerned residents to study and recommend a secure and adequate funding stream for our fire companies. The decision should never again be left up to seven supervisors, one of whom is running for higher office on a platform of no tax increases.

Kathleen Keohane, Malvern

Firefighter Holiday Drive Update . . . Courtesy of Supervisor Olson

I had a call this morning from Supervisor Olson in regards to the Firefighter’s Holiday Drive.  Supervisor Olson explained that he will update me on the Holiday Drive contribution checks — each time they are turned over to the Berwyn Fire Company. 

 Rip Tilden, president of Berwyn Fire Company will receive the checks on behalf of the 3 fire companies and then make the appropriate distributions to Radnor, Paoli and Berwyn Fire Companies.  Currently, Mr. Tilden is on a Wharton-student trip in Africa (Mr. Tilden is a Wharton faculty member) but upon his return, Supervisor Olson intends to turn over the next group of checks.  Contribution checks will continue to be turned over to the Berwyn Fire Company on a regular basis and Supervisor Olson has committed to calling me each time with an accounting.  Although Supervisor Olson is the point person for delivery of the checks to Berwyn Fire Company, it is my understanding that Supervisors Lamina and Kampf are also doing their follow-up and collections with the local businesses. 

Supervisor Olson and I agreed that we would keep a running to-date total on what has been collected to make sure that it reaches the promised $23,200 ‘cardboard check’ amount by March 31, 2010.  I will post the information on Community Matters as it becomes available. I would suggest that the Berwyn Fire Company or the Board of Supervisor liaison give an update on the Holiday Drive contributions with their regular fire company reports.