SPRINGFIELD TOWNSHIP ─ Internal turmoil at the Springfield Township Fire Department has prompted township trustees to consider launching an investigation.
Chairman Trustee Paul Gleisinger made the announcement at the end of a trustees’ meeting on Monday evening. He said the board will be looking into an outside source to do an internal investigation at the fire department. The trustees will vote on whether to move forward with the idea later.
Twenty-five members of Springfield Township Professional Firefighters IAFF Local 3849 and part-time firefighters with the department signed a letter for the trustees pointing out several issues that happened mostly in the past two years.
The group was ready to speak at the meeting and presented the letter to the board. But Gleisinger closed public commentary before the meeting started, a decision strongly opposed by Trustee Amy Rose.
Jon Brown, secretary and treasurer for the firefighters union, said it was frustrating to see that many firefighters come together but not even get a chance to speak.
The union made a public record request of 12 line items, including the fire department employees wage and benefits document, but only receive a fraction of them, Brown said.
On Tuesday, union president Jordan Bittner said changes have been made in the wage and benefits documents in 2020 and 2021, but the employees have not had access to it.
Brown said the firefighters did not receive the Standard Operation and Procedure manual, which defines how the department operates, until recently. The SOP manual protects the agency from some liability issues. Brown said firefighters have to break the traffic laws when it is necessary, for example. So they need to have the manual to know that they are protected by following the rules.
According to the union’s letter, part-time employees did not have an opportunity to apply for a full-time position open earlier this year. Brown said the trustees and Fire Chief Matthew Carey agreed to hire a particular employee, a decision that the employees learned from a department-wide email.
The union asked for a job posting of that position and the number of applications, Brown said; both requests were not addressed.
Bittner said the union tried to speak on the issues through the department’s officers at the officer meetings, which Chief Carey and captains attended. But it was told that the meetings were “a waste of time” and the leadership canceled it last year.
Things were slightly improved when Asst. Chief Matt Wells temporarily took over the department during Carey’s medical leave at the end of January, Bittner said. There was a vision to get some policies and procedures back in place.
“He (Wells) wanted to better this department for not only the members but for the community,” Bittner said. “We felt very, very strongly that he not only said things like that, but his action showed.”
However, Wells submitted a resignation to the trustees about two months after Carey’s return in April. The board approved it on Monday evening.
Wells said he made the decision for the sake of the department’s continuity and the township residents. He will retire at the end of July.
“It's imperative for operations of this department that we not be distracted on a daily basis…because of the type of work and job that we do and the service to our community, we have to be completely locked on every day,” he said.
Bittner said the union has tried to open a line of communication through the fire chief to the board of trustees but has not reached success.
On Monday, Gleisinger said the union has not been recognized. They should follow the chain of command to report issues instead of talking about them during public commentary.
Besides, the board has got many issues on the agenda on Monday, the Chairman Trustee said. He also said the firefighters can call the trustees on their cell phones to express their concern.
“I didn't want our board meeting to turn into a circus this evening, and there was some outside things being stirred,” Gleisinger said.
He said the trustees realize that issues within the fire department are causing a lot of things. That is why the board is considering an internal investigation.
Chief Carey said he was not aware of the union's letter and declined to provide further comment on the issues mentioned.