Owego firefighters plan to quit if Board of Trustees doesn't pass operations manual tonight

Monica Sandreczki
April 29, 2014

UPDATE : Tonight's special meeting of the Owego Village Board of Trustees has been relocated to the Hubbard Auditorium at the Tioga County Office Building, 56 Main St., Owego. The meeting starts at 7:00pm.

Owego firefighters say they’re quitting if the village board of trustees doesn’t sign off on new fire safety rules at its special meeting tonight. The board recently voted to delay passage of the rules until June, saying there wasn’t enough time to understand them.

Pete Ellis has been a volunteer firefighter in Owego for 50 years.

He says, for most of that time, the department’s been operating under lax standards and has been cited by the state for it.

Ellis says the lack of rules came to a head last year, when volunteer firefighter Matt Porcari died fighting a housefire.

“One of the rules was there is to be no facial hair that obstructs the fitting of the face masks," says Ellis. "When you’ve seen firemen, you see them with the tanks on their back and the masks on their face. And Matt apparently had a beard, which makes the fit not perfect. And I’m told he died from inhalation of fumes, smoke.”

So, Ellis says it’s urgent these rules be approved tonight to prevent another fireman’s death.

Earl Hartman is a member of the Board of Trustees and an Owego volunteer firefighter. Hartman agrees with Ellis, but says Porcari’s death is being misused to speed up passage.

“Matt is an excellent example of why we need to have some changes made. But that’s different in my mindset than using him as a constant leverage and a battering ram. That, to me, harms us and I don’t think it’s fair to Matt’s memory.”

Hartman says the safety guidelines are only part of the rules. And they’re not the problem.

He says the rules about selecting officers conflict with the fire department’s by-laws.

Right now, firefighters elect their officers to the fire department’s oversight board. But under the proposed rules, officers would be appointed by the fire chief. Hartman says the disparity needs to be sorted out, but he’s thinks it can be fixed in the next couple village trustees’ meetings. Hopefully, it’s soon enough for some firefighters.

“Apparently, some of them are gonna walk and it’s gonna be sad to lose ‘em. If they’ve made that decision, I can’t change it for ‘em. And I flat-out refuse to be blackmailed.”

The Board of Trustees is meeting tonight at 7:00 to study the rules and possibly pass them.