McKeesport Daily News December 14, 2007

Reliance Hose closing its doors After serving Glassport for 105 years

By ERIC SLAGLE Daily News Staff Writer eslagle@dailynewsemail.com

The end, or at least an end, is near for Reliance Hose Fire Co. No. 2 in Glassport.

The fire company, one of two serving the borough, was financially cut off from a local fire tax revenue by council two months ago. That move effectively ended the company’s hopes of staying an active firefighting force and made Glassport No. 1 Citizens Hose Co. the official department for the borough.

As part of the measure, council agreed to continue paying for Reliance’s insurance on its equipment until the end of the year. With January just two weeks away, Reliance members say their 105-year history of fighting fires is about over. “We’re out of business. We’re going to sell our stuff and carry on,” said Reliance President Jim Ali, referring to the company’s firehouse full of equipment.

An 85-foot aerial truck, two pumper trucks and an old ambulance converted into a fire support vehicle are some of the pieces of gear the company says it will sell or even give away. Ali said the company’s bylaws require that the equipment go to a non-profit organization but he does not want to see it go to Citizens. “I’d give it away before I’d sell it to them,” said Ali, who is among a number of Reliance members bitter about the way things worked out. “We could even donate it to other companies (with the exception of Citizens) who are hurting.”

When council voted to continue on with just one fire company serving the city, it also voted to award all of its .75 mills fire tax to the surviving department. It had frozen the fund, which totals about $68,000, earlier in the year, while it pondered which department to eliminate.

A year ago, the state Department of Community and Economic Development released a feasibility study that said the borough should phase out one of the departments to save money. The department could continue on as a firefighting force, he said, but it would have to pay for insurance and other operating costs on its own. He said it can’t afford to do that. He said the company should be able to cover its overhead through the end of the year without local tax support but “it’s going to be tight.”

The borough is reviewing a list of expenses submitted by Reliance. It may be able to reimburse the company for some expenses out of this or next year’s fire tax, provided they are from equipment purchases.

Though Reliance’s days of battling blazes look to be over, it may carry on as a social club for firefighters, Ali said. The second floor of the firehouse is home to a recreation hall with a liquor license that can be rented for special occasions. Ali said he’s also had inquiries about renting out the garage area below for an automotive shop or storage area.

So far, about nine members of Reliance have switched over to Citizens, according to Scott Lautner, an attorney for Citizens. Ali would not confirm that number. Though the two departments have responded to many of the same fire calls, negotiations for an amicable merger have been all but nonexistent. “Reliance won’t even come to the table,” said Lautner, noting that members of that company have not responded to his requests, formal or otherwise, for a meeting to discuss merging the forces.

In October, Lautner sent Reliance a letter stating that all members of the company were welcome to join Citizens provided they pass a criminal background check and go through a probationary period their first year of service. The probation provision is a point of contention for a lot of older members at Reliance who think the requirement insults the dignity of veteran firefighters, but Lautner said it shouldn’t be viewed that way. Lautner said the probation period is standard for all enrolling members of Citizens, not just those who’d be coming over from Reliance. He said new and veteran members all would be credited for that first year of service once it was completed.

Citizens also offered to create for incoming Reliance members three governing positions within the organization, but Reliance members said that offer still would only give them minority representation in company affairs. The open enrollment period expires at the end of the year. “We assume the guys who want to fight fires will come over. The ones who want to complain will stay where they’re at,” Lautner said.

Spirits were low at Reliance during a recent visit. The weight room where firefighters used to work out during downtime was practically empty. A member of the company said some of the guys had removed the equipment some time ago, fearing the borough would proclaim eminent domain over the structure and take it and other valuables. The walls in the weight room were missing some of the old photos and awards the company had collected over the years.

Some members are looking for positions in volunteer companies in neighboring boroughs. Others, like Ali, said they probably will hang their fire helmets up for good. “I’m done,” he said. The official name of the borough’s surviving department will remain Citizens Hose. That too has agitated some die-hard Reliance members.

Outgoing Glassport Councilman Jim Foster defends the borough’s decision to keep the old name for the company instead of changing it to a less-charged name like Glassport Fire Department, as some in the community would have preferred, on grounds it offered the simplest solution. Dissolving two companies, renaming Citizens, building new facilities all would have added extra steps and costs to the process, he said.

Foster, who was a lifelong member of Reliance but joined Citizens this fall after the borough made its decision, said he made the switch based on his desire to remain an active fire­fighter in the borough, even though he admits he nowadays just assists on calls, leaving the ladder climbing to younger members. “If your heart is in serving the community, you’ll do it,” he said.


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