Former fire policeman airs grievances, takes some blame
MOUNT CARMEL - The former lieutenant of Mount Carmel Station 6 fire police is not pleased with the way he says the organization has been portrayed by borough officials.
Harry Zerbe, however, also acknowledges that decisions he made represented a "disservice" to Station 6 and the community.
Zerbe, 64, said he believes the focus in recent public discussion involving the fire police unit revolved around allocation, when to him it is more about appreciation.
"Everywhere we go, people thank us, except in this one square mile right here (Mount Carmel)," he said in a Feb. 6 interview. "I'm not looking for a pat on the back. I'm not a hero. It's just the fact that nobody cares."
Station 6 has been allocated $250 from each of the four borough fire companies - Anthracite Steam, Clover Hose, American Hose and Chemical and West End, which operates out of American Hose. Meanwhile, the borough allocates approximately $7,000 to the fire companies for equipment and building maintenance. The fire police unit's request for a $1,000 allocation from the borough for 2013 was denied.
Zerbe requested an interview following a story that quoted borough council president Tony Matulewicz and Mayor J. Kevin Jones, as well as officials from Clover Hose Fire Company, which formed a partnership with Station 6 after the trouble started in the fall.
Zerbe resigned from the fire police after six years and now refuses to volunteer anywhere in the borough.
It was voted not to discuss grievances publicly when the fire police unit voluntarily went out of service last fall for the purpose of reorganizing and figuring out how to attract new members, Zerbe said. But he said he now feels the need to speak out.
It was described by the mayor and Matulewicz that Zerbe and former Station 6 member Joseph Kripplebauer told Jones in October they would not respond to possible needs involving Hurricane Sandy unless the fire police received the $1,000 allocation from the borough, which Zerbe says has been requested for years.
Zerbe, however, said he approached Jones to say the unit would be coming back in service during the critical situation.
"We weren't there 45 seconds, and the mayor said, 'I don't have time for you now, and I won't have time for you later. Get out of my office,'" he said.
Jones said in the previous story he "may have been a bit harsh," but that the borough was preparing for a potential disaster and it was not the time to discuss funding. Jones, asked to respond to Zerbe this week, said only, "The Clovers under Phil Cimino are taking over. They have more volunteers. We've moved on; it's all worked out well."
Matulewicz said in the previous story he wasn't going to allow the borough to be "extorted."
Fire Police President Bob Yeager, who said this week there are no updates to the negotiations with Clover Hose, said he didn't want to discuss Zerbe's comments.
"I'm trying to stay neutral," he said.
At this point, Yeager is one of three members, which is down from 10 when Station 6 went out of service.
Too many requirements
Zerbe said a long list of requirements, including 300 hours of training implemented by the fire departments, are another reason fire police numbers have dwindled. Members don't have the time or money to fulfill that request.
"We wanted them to relax these regulations so we could gain some people," he said.
Because of multiple complaints about the conduct of the fire police, however, Matulewicz said the budget committee recommended not funding the $1,000 allocation.
He said there has been no disrespect toward the fire police or Zerbe.
"I have never even spoken to him personally," he said.
Many complaints against Zerbe were found credible by former Police Chief Brian Shurock, Matulewicz said.
For his part, Zerbe said his "no-nonsense" attitude is justified. He said he gets threatened by residents, is subjected to rude gestures and has even been bumped by vehicles.
"Nobody is going to curse me out. I'm going to do something about it," he said.
'Nothing but the best'
The day after the Feb. 6 interview, Zerbe contacted The News-Item to apologize for his anger.
"I should have never let it go that way. I wish nothing but the best for the Clovers, and I hope they rebuild it better than the way it was," he said.
As an officer and a member of the fire police, he admits he made mistakes and he should have alerted the public that Station 6 was out of service.
"It was a disservice to the community and Station 6," he said.
With Station 6 out of service, fire police from Ashland, Kulpmont, Shamokin and Coal Township can be requested by emergency personnel.