Change was in the air this week as the Muhlenberg Township Boards met with the resignation of a commissioner, the resignation of the police chief and discussions of a full-time fire chief.
Commissioner Derek Lupia is leaving the township and not eligible to serve, and Police Chief William M. Heim has already started his new job as chief executive in Reading.
But the evening’s fireworks were reserved for the fire chief, including a shouting match between former Temple Fire Company chief Mark George and council chairman Michael Malinowski.
George was often critical of how supervisors treat the township fire department and its volunteers.
On Monday, George highlighted Muhlenberg Township Fire & Rescue’s need for a full-time paid fire chief and said the council should hire current part-time chief Larry Moyer. George, Moyer and a number of current volunteer firefighters attended.
George is a retired firefighter from Reading and Moyer is currently the town’s deputy chief.
“You’ve got the best guy for the job doing it part-time,” George said.
Malinowski said the board unanimously agreed it was time for the fire chief to take a paid, full-time position.
“We are accepting applications,” Commissioner Steve Wolfinger said. “We’re going to get there eventually.”
“We’ve been mocked in some ways for hiring a full-time chef because of the amount of work it takes,” commissioner Kevin Lerch said. “There were volunteers lining up and saying, ‘We’re going to support this guy’ and others saying, ‘We’re not going to support this guy.’ It’s just curious that whatever the Board of Commissioners does, someone will oppose it because we are making very difficult decisions.
The discussion quickly turned heated, with George and several board members chatting amongst themselves. With frustration evident in his voice, Malinowski said the township needed a leader who could tell the council what the department needed.
Monday’s meeting was full of familiar criticism of the current state of the department, from a lack of volunteers to a reliance on mutual aid from neighboring fire departments.
Moyer addressed the board, noting that there have been five structure fires in the township since the start of July, including house fires this month in the Cherokee ranch section and in the Muhlenberg Park area.
“On behalf of the members, they feel a bit overlooked by the board,” Moyer said. “Five working fires and they haven’t received any emails…no gratitude for their service and efforts for the township. It’s concerning for the members.
Lerch said if volunteers had come to previous meetings, they would have heard more praise from board members.
“It’s been a busy two weeks,” he said. “Council doesn’t come out on top. There was a time when we tried to reach many (of them) to show our appreciation for our volunteers, but I see so many of you in the audience tonight and I want to thank you for coming. .
“Just so you know, gentlemen,” Wolfinger said, “we read your reports every month. When I was a liaison for four years, I had you on my phone. I received these calls at 2 am and was amazed at how these volunteers were protecting the canton of Muhlenberg. You do a hell of a job, and every time I hear those sirens, I think of you.
Moyer said he would appreciate the council coming to the fire station, instead of the other way around.
“These guys give a lot of their time,” Moyer said. “They are in weekly training, they have calls in the middle of the night, in the middle of the day…. Passing by when the door is open and saying thank you would mean a lot more than we had to come to your house.
The council has 45 days to appoint a new commissioner and has received several nominations, according to the discussion.
No timetable has been discussed to replace Heim.