CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. —The Borough of Chambersburg is suing the local chapter of a firefighters union over a dispute in which professional firefighters allegedly were told to stop volunteering in the municipality.
In October 2011, International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) Local 1813 President Patrick R. Martin sent a letter to area fire companies asking professional firefighters to stop volunteering in the Borough of Chambersburg. A letter last month from union Vice President Scott McNew went further and threatened charges under union bylaws to career firefighters who did volunteer.
Affected are firefighters who are paid in areas like Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
The lawsuit filed last week names IAFF Local 1813, and Martin and McNew as defendants. Copies of the letters are included in court documents.
“The defendants have directed volunteer firefighters to stop responding to fires in the Borough of Chambersburg and thereby placed borough residents and businesses in immediate peril,” the complaint filed in the lawsuit states.
Franklin County (Pa.) Court of Common Pleas Judge Richard Walsh granted an injunction for the union and its leaders “to cease and desist from encouraging, sanctioning and supporting a secondary boycott of volunteer fire services in the Chambersburg Fire Department.”
Reached by phone Monday evening, Martin said he was aware of the lawsuit.
“We don’t have any comment,” he said.
The Chambersburg Fire Department, which includes five companies, has both paid and volunteer firefighters.
Union leaders were notified last year during contract negotiations that the municipality would “decrease its firefighting capabilities or transfer much of the primary responsibility for firefighting and suppression to other potential fire service providers” because of budgetary constraints.
“In short, we can no longer afford the Chambersburg Fire Department at its current service level,” Borough Council President William McLaughlin wrote in a letter to Martin.
The borough argues in court documents that the union’s “outrageous” actions spelled out in its letters lack regard for lives and property in the borough. It notes that the Franklin Fire Co. has IAFF members who volunteer in Chambersburg; and the Franklin Fire Co. provides a specialized rescue squad for extricating victims from vehicles and burning buildings.
“The volunteer members of the Chambersburg Fire Department who are IAFF members due to their employment in other jurisdictions are the most highly trained volunteers within the Chambersburg Fire Department,” the borough writes in its request for an injunction.
“Safety in the Borough of Chambersburg depends on the kindness, dedication, skill and courage of volunteer firefighters. The enormity of the union’s mandate defies adequate description,” McLaughlin said in a news release issued Monday.
The news release further quoted an affidavit from James Hull, president of the Franklin Fire Co. In it, he said volunteers are now forced to make a “choice between facing ridicule, harassment and potential discipline, and providing essential public safety services.”
According to the IAFF Local 1813 website, the bargaining unit represents 21 career firefighters.
Chambersburg’s firefighters are paid an average of $56,000 a year, plus benefits.
Court documents state the Chambersburg Town Council suspended Martin in February for 240 hours and filed an unfair labor practice charge with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board. That matter is scheduled for a hearing before the labor relations board on June 18.