South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret L. Smykla
Contributing Writer 

Boro resident asks council to consider paid firefighters


Last updated 6/28/2018 at 8:33am

Mt. Oliver resident Jennifer Donnelly-Johnson has asked the borough council to consider a full-time, paid fire department instead of the all volunteer fire company currently in the borough.

An impassioned plea by a resident for a full-time, paid borough fire department was at the heart of the June 18 meeting of Mt. Oliver council.

It was in response to a child dying in a three-alarm house fire on Anthony St. on June 13.

First responders made numerous attempts to enter the burning structure but were unable due to intense heat and smoke.

Aiden Moore, 5, died as a result of smoke and fire, according to the county medical examiner.

"You guys did a great job," neighbor Jennifer Donnelly-Johnson said to Mt. Oliver Volunteer Fire Company Chief Fran Kestner and Assistant Chief Ron Lowrey. She and three others also tried to enter the burning building before help arrived but were unsuccessful.

Her request is for a full-time staff so as to cut down on response time as the majority of houses in the area are wood, as is hers and the home that was destroyed by fire and would quickly go up in flames if a fire started.

Council President Amber McGough said residents would have to pay higher taxes to have a full-time fire department.

"It's the cost associated with it," Mr. Lowrey said of a full-time force. He also said today's volunteer firefighters would like to be full-time, paid employees.

He disputed Ms. Donnelly-Johnson's claim that it took more than 30 minutes for help to arrive. He said from the time the 911 call was made, to when they were dispatched, the elapsed time was three-and-a-half to seven-and-a-half minutes.

Mr. Kestner said police were on the scene within one-and-a-half minutes, and the first truck was there within seven-and-a-half minutes. He was there in three minutes, he said. The borough's engine and ladder truck were already on the scene when the city firefighters arrived.

Police Chief Matt Juzwick said there is video footage of the borough ladder truck arriving within six minutes.

Mr. Lowrey said the fire company could use more volunteers, and he would love to see a regional, paid force through SHACOG. Currently, two-thirds of the borough's active firefighters live outside the borough.

Solicitor Kate Diersen added the borough passed an ordinance giving tax credits to those who volunteers as firefighters.

Ms. Donnelly-Johnson suggested applying for grants for funding for a paid force.

"We should have a full-time chief and assistant chiefs and a few firefighters," she said.

As to the city responding to borough fires, Mr. Kestner said city firefighters are not contracted through the borough to respond here. But they can be requested. The borough would then be billed by the city.

Mt. Oliver has a mutual aid agreement through SHACOG with all of its member communities and does not pay those fire companies when they respond.

Councilwoman Tina Reft said she would look into the cost charged by the city.

Ms. McGough concluded the discussion by stating council will monitor response times and see what can be improved upon.

To donate to help the family, which lost all of its possessions in the fire, visit: .

The meeting began with the mayor's report. Mayor Frank Bernardini said he wanted Jordan Tax Service to return to its former procedure of sending notices to all residents who owed $250 and more in delinquent sewage bills. Failure to pay the complete bill, or enter into a payment plan, would result in shut-offs.

"Taxpayers have been paying for deadbeats who do not pay their sewage," he said.

He said he realized the need to reinstate the $250 limit when he received a May printout from Jordan with 95 listings of delinquent accounts, with some owing thousands of dollars. The 95 delinquent accounts owe $73,888.

There are also nine other delinquent account that were not on the list, raising the total amount in arrears to $78,977.

On that day, 10 liens were put against 10 properties, with only one those properties on the original list from Jordan.

"This is an indication that something fell through the cracks," he said, adding he wants a representative from Jordan to come and talk to council about the matter.

"It comes to a point where you have to say 'enough is enough'," Mr. Bernardini said of the money owed the borough.

On another topic, he reported that while fireworks are legal, illegal ones are being brought into the borough, causing concern among residents their houses could catch on fire. Call 911 if your safety is at risk.

Councilman Nick Viglione said people are shooting off big fireworks that can catch roofs on fire.

Mr. Bernardini next mentioned that residents are mad about the towing of abandoned vehicles, but it is the law.

"These laws are all throughout the country," he said.

In the public safety report for May, Mr. Bernardini reported there were 693 total calls for service, and 42 drug-related arrests. The drug-related arrests were for the seizure of marijuana, crack cocaine, heroin, and drug paraphernalia. There was one burglary and one DUI arrest in the borough.

The police K-9 units were used 37 times, including for drug searches, arrests, warrant service, demonstrations, park-and-walks, and targeted patrols. Thirteen warrants were served.

The police responded to two commercial alarms and 10 residential alarms.

Parking Enforcement wrote 115 borough tickets, while the Police Department wrote 121 borough tags. There were 106 state citations issued for parking violations.

The total miles driven for all police vehicles was 4,217 miles. Vehicle maintenance and repair totaled $734.34.

Police firearms qualifications and training will be conducted in July for part of the department. The remainder of the department will be scheduled later this year.

In the fire report for May, the Mt. Oliver Volunteer Fire Company responded to 57 incidents, 38 of which were for EMS and 19 for fire calls.

In the report from code enforcement officer Tom McAllister for May, Councilman David Beltz reported there were 262 code violations, including for early trash, high grass, accumulation of garbage, debris, and failure to renew rental licenses. The violations resulted in 45 notices, 192 citations, four state citations, 17 legal filings, and four with no mail service.

Thirty-five rental applications/notices were mailed for May. Two occupancy inspections were issued.

Mr. McAllister said the number of residents putting out trash too early has greatly declined since garbage pick-up was moved from Mondays to Tuesdays. Trash may only be placed out on the curb for pick-up after 6 p.m. the day before the scheduled collection.

To an attendee's question if residents are allowed to leave couches on front porches for months, Mr. McAllister said the resident in question has been cited multiple times.

In the public safety report, council accepted the resignation of Officer Linda Matthews. The Police Department has received applications to replace her.

In the public works report for May, Councilman David Lowe reported routine facility maintenance was conducted, including emptying trash, cleaning/sweeping, and re-stocking supplies. Trash cans were emptied three times per week in the business district, and tires and TVs were picked up throughout the borough.

A new "stop sign" was installed at Giffin and Hervey. Personnel began painting crosswalks and stop sign bars around the borough.

In Transverse Park, workers installed new plot markers at the community garden. In Ormsby Park, they removed the bench on the hillside and installed bumper block to resolve a drainage issue. They also repaired the water fountain.

In economic development, Ms. Reft reported that Community Day was scheduled for Saturday, June 23, at Transverse Park.

Regular business hours for the new The Bakery Society of Pittsburgh's (TBSP) bakery incubator will be from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., beginning Monday, July 9. TBSP occupies 225 Brownsville Rd, the former Kullman's Bakery site.

The Hilltop Economic Development Corp. (HEDC) is now accepting applications from the Mt. Oliver Business Owners for facade grants through funding awarded by the PNC Foundation.

In resolutions and ordinances, council voted to amend Section 248 (vehicles and traffic) of the borough code to allow metered parking on Hays Ave. (West Side), between Penn and St. Joseph. It was formerly no parking at all.

Council also authorized the borough to enter into an intergovernmental cooperation agreement with the City of Pittsburgh providing animal control services to the borough.

Police officers would have to transport stray dogs, thereby taking the officers out of service for the shift. Residents are still encouraged to call the Mt. Oliver Police, but then the police can make the determination as to whether or not they feel the need to contact animal control.

Animal control may only be dispatched by the Police Department.

Council also authorized participation in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's cooperative purchasing program (COSTARS) for the purchase of a 2019 Ford F-550 Chassis for the public works department.

The next council meeting will be on July 16.


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