The fuse has been lit on a debate over whether the companies that make up the Bangor Fire Department should be consolidated.
Borough council directed David Ceraul to draft an ordinance Monday night reducing the number of fire companies from three to two, and relocating the borough police department and administrative offices to the closed fire company's headquarters.
Council member Mark Brown was the only dissenter -- "I thought it could have been handled a little differently," he explained later -- and at the end of the evening, he suddenly resigned from council over an unrelated personnel matter.
Council member Bonnie LeBar, whose husband is borough fire chief, remained silent during the voice vote, but she left her place on council and stood at a microphone and criticized the proposed ordinance, as did a string of firefighters, who were seeking specifics from council.
"This borough council should be embracing the Bangor Fire Department, not trying to destroy the Bangor Fire Department ... and that's what you're doing after 125 years," LeBar told her peers. "You're destroying the spirit of volunteerism in Bangor," she added.
Council member James Kresge took issue with LeBar's statements, saying, "You don't really believe we're really trying to destroy the fire department, do you?" LeBar would not back down, saying: "You heard what I said."
The proposed ordinance would close the Rescue Fire Company, which is based in a borough-owned building at 209 Pennsylvania Ave. The Bangor Police Department would move there from its quarters about three blocks away at 30 N. 1st St. So would the borough administrative offices, which are now in the adjacent Beehive Community Center at 197 Pennsylvania Ave.
The 2nd Ward Fire Company at 517 Northampton St., on the borough's south side, and the Liberty Fire Company at 67 N. 8th St., in the northwest part of the borough, would absorb Rescue's 30 or so members and equipment, according to the proposed ordinance. Both the 2nd Ward and Liberty companies own their own buildings.
Council president Catherine Allen said a committee of firefighters and council members would be formed to study the issue, noting that the reasons behind the proposed ordinance were "strictly financial." She also said the ordinance would be more fully discussed at council's next meeting on Sept. 10.
But Allen was unwilling to offer the figures and specific reasons that led council to propose such an ordinance, despite several requests by firefighters. "We will personally meet with you and go over the figures," she promised more than once.
Council member Harry Wyant added, "All the logistics will have to be worked out. This [proposed ordinance] is just the first step."
Former council member Cynthia Weiss was skeptical, saying she believed council members knew more than they were letting on. "I sat where you sit now and I know you know. ... It's time to stop the back-door meetings."
Firefighters told council that there is a business side and an operations side to each company, and both should be represented on the council committee.
They said each company has certain pieces of equipment that only those members know how to operate, and that some trucks from Rescue could not be handled at either 2nd Ward or Liberty.
They questioned if there would be any real savings from the consolidation, and pointed out the possible loss of state money if Bangor had one less fire company.
Several also said that council's actions make it appear that the public is being ignored.
Kresge took exception to the suggestion. "I agree people should know what's going on," he said. "But I don't like the us-versus-them mentality. ... I don't want to have my baby burning up either, but I want to afford being able to live in Bangor."
After almost an hour of public comment, council went into executive session over a personnel matter. When council reconvened almost two hours later, an emotional Brown announced he was quitting. A stunned council voted to accept his resignation, with LeBar and Kresge voting no. "With me working at the borough authority and being on council, it was just too much conflict," Brown said after the meeting. "This [resignation] will help us move ahead. I always put the people of this town first."
Brown was elected on a write-in vote in November 2006 and was re-elected in November 2010. His term runs until January 2015. Allen said the borough will advertise for his replacement.