Union Fire Co. resumes service, to give up boat

The Union Fire Company purchased this Firestorm 36 Aluminum Fire/Rescue Boat, by Metalcraft Marine in Kingston, Ontario, for $940,000 with grant money. (Photo: Union37.com)

Bensalem Township’s volunteer Union Fire Co. returned to service Friday after a two-month suspension, with new leaders and an agreement to give up its $940,000 fire-fighting and rescue boat.

“As of noon today, we’re responding to all emergencies,” said Chief James Barford, the former deputy chief, who has served in the fire company near the Delaware River for 48 years.

The guys are just celebrating that they’re back working, responding to emergencies,” Barford said. “That’s all we ever wanted to do.”

The company, based on State Road, was suspended July 10 by township Public Safety Director Fred Harran for “a total lack of leadership.”

Harran cited the company’s purchase of a jet-powered, 37-foot fireboat “it has no need for.” A federal Port Security Grant supplied $750,000 of the purchase price, but covering the balance and operating and mooring costs was a serious drain on the small company’s finances, township officials said.

It was the second suspension in 13 months for Union — the latest chapter in a long-standing clash of personalities and politics.

Former Chief Dave Jerri refused to meet Haran’s conditions for reinstatement, which included a new chief and president, and getting rid of the boat, christened Marine 37 but nicknamed “the Bear on the Delaware.”

“They’ve been threatening to do this since the last time,” Jerri said at the time, referring to the ouster of Chief Vince Troisi last summer.

The company, which has two other boats, needs the “Bear” for emergencies on the Delaware, such as fires, capsized boats, and body recoveries, Jerri said. There have been about four such calls in the last year.

Harran criticized the company’s performance, saying it answered the fewest calls of the township’s six volunteer companies, had the worst response time and safety issues, and lacked a recruiting program.

“They’re more interested in the boat than fighting fires,” he said.

Within three weeks, Jerri and President Steve Carmichael stepped down, replaced by Barford and John Knowles. The company immediately started recruiting members, going door-to-door and signing up 16 firefighters, Bardford said. The membership is now up to about 37, he said.

To qualify for reinstatetment, the company also installed a new slate of operational and administrative officers, established an extensive remediation plan, and will be on probation through the end of the year, Harran said Friday in a statement.

And its new leaders agreed to turn the “Bear” over to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which will find an organization that can put it to better use.

“It’s going to take some time before something happens with the boat,” said Barford, who is hoping to rcoup the money Union sunk into the boat. “It will be handled by the federal government.

“We’re not using it.”