Lehigh Valley

Allentown mayor, union spar over firefighting equipment

Allentown mayor, union spar over...

A feud between the Allentown firefighters' union and administration is heating up.

Over the weekend, the union posted on Facebook saying it did not have a single working ladder truck, often referred to as an "aerial."

President Jeremy Warmkessel called it a safety issue and said the department is facing an apparatus situation at crisis level.

"Any mechanical issue in any pieces of equipment will lead us to responding out of a pickup. I say that only because that's the path we've used in the past," Warmkessel said.

On Facebook, the union claims Saturday was the third time in one week the department was without the equipment.

"We had nothing left in the city, we were only left with engines, which are basically water carriers to fight the fire," Warmkessel said.  "Every minute we don't have the proper equipment is too long."

Warmkessel said aerial trucks are often used for ventilation, rescue, and reaching upper floors.

The union is pinning blame on the administration, adding that the fire department is challenged to do its job without all of the equipment it needs.

But Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski Monday called the claims "ridiculous."

He added that on Saturday, the department was without an aerial truck for about five hours.  Two are currently being worked on, and an engine truck with aerial capabilities had emergency work that day.  The two aerial trucks were purchased in 2008, according to city officials.

"I think it's really unfounded. We put the safety of our citizens and firefighters, it's top priority and at no time would we put their safety in jeopardy," Pawlowski said.

Pawlowski called the complaint by the union politically motivated and said the city isn't going to purchase new equipment just because the union doesn't like what it has.

"I think a lot of this is just political theatrics, it's a week before an election," Pawlowski said.

Pawlowski is seeking a fourth term as mayor.  The primary election is next week.

"It has nothing to do with the mayor's political aspirations," Warmkessel said.

The union said the city needs an equipment replacement plan and preventative maintenance plan.  The mayor said the city has such a maintenance plan.

"On paper, they may have a preventative maintenance plan. But if all day everyday they are providing repairs to vehicle that are broken down, they don’t have a chance to employ that maintenance plan," Warmkessel said.

"I can tell the citizens of this city that our equipment is just going through normal maintenance and wear and tear. We fix it and we get this equipment back into service as quickly as we possibly can.  We have five fire stations we can pull from plus we have other fire departments which we share mutual aid when we don't have equipment we need," Pawlowski said.

Warmkessel took issue with the mayor's response.

"We could rely on mutual aid, but I don't think that is an effective way of doing business. If it was your house, or your emergency, I don't know that you would be wanting to wait for someone from Bethlehem or Catasauqua, or any of the other places we had to put on standby this weekend to cover the city of Allentown," Warmkessel said.

The union anticipates it won't have its two designated aerial trucks until next week, while Pawlowski said at least one of them is expected to be back in order this week following repairs.

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