Derry officials work to reopen shuttered fire company

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The solicitor for Derry Township and the attorney for the Eastern Derry Township Fire Department were scheduled to meet this week in an effort to reopen the shuttered fire department.

The Eastern Derry department closed in late July because it no longer had insurance for its vehicles. Fire department officials said they expected an annual donation from the township that would have paid for the insurance.

The Bradenville Fire Department in the township and the Blairsville Fire Department are covering fire calls for the department.

An unusually large debt for a recently purchased ladder truck was the red flag that caused supervisors to delay its annual donation.

John Rushford, township solicitor, said, “We will meet with them to see if they can reorganize or restructure their debt, which would give the township the comfort level that they will continue to be in existence.”

Both township fire departments were scheduled to receive annual donations of $30,000 this year from supervisors.

Mr. Rushford said an audit this summer, however, showed that the Eastern Derry fire department had an “extraordinary debt” on a recently purchased fire truck.

“These trucks are very expensive, they can cost $200,000 to $300,000,” he said, “plus they have a mortgage on their building.”

Mr. Rushford said there was no issue of missing money, but the township was concerned about the large debt.

Township supervisors decided earlier this year to require an audit from its fire departments.

“The audits were due in June, and the first audit [from Eastern Derry] was woefully inadequate,” Mr. Rushford said. “Then we had the township auditor get together with them to offer assistance, and it was the third revision in mid-July that caused the concerns over the extraordinary debt.”

The fire department had a CPA do the first audits; the township auditor worked on the third audit.

Mr. Rushford said the fire department apparently was late on its truck loan, and the financial institution called the township to ask about its annual donation. He said it was his understanding that the truck was in the process of being repossessed.

Calls to fire department members were not returned. Amber Leechalk, of Greensburg, attorney for the fire department, declined to comment until she spoke with the township solicitor and fire officials. She was on vacation last week, and plans to meet with the township solicitor.

Mr. Rushford said the fire department probably would have received approval by supervisors for its annual donation at their Aug. 2 meeting, but by then the fire department had missed an insurance payment for their vehicles and could not operate under state law.

Mr. Rushford said audits of fire departments are not specifically required by the state.

“But when you give someone a grant, you are required by the [state] Auditor General to provide an accounting, so technically, yes, the audits are required,” he said.

Fire department officials have said insurance costs the department about $11,000 a year. The department conducts an annual fundraising campaign in addition to getting a donation from the township.

Derry Township, located east of Latrobe, is about 98 square miles and has approximately 15,000 residents.

The Eastern Derry Township Fire Department building is located on Route 217, about halfway between Route 30 and Route 22.

Debra Duncan, freelance writer:

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