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Pioneer and ladies auxiliary part ways
By: ANDY FASNACHT Review Editor email@example.com, Staff Writer
For the time being, it appears a 55-year relationship between the Ephrata Pioneer Fire Company its Ladies Auxiliary has ended.
First reported through a letter received this week by The Ephrata Review, as of Jan. 1, the mutual agreement between the two organizations, which began with the auxiliary charter in 1958, has reached an endpoint. Both current auxiliary president Nadine Carpenter and Pioneer president Jim Kiefer confirmed the basic information Monday, however the reasons it occurred and details weren’t completely clear.
It appears, however, the beginning of the end started with a meeting between the two groups last year, when the Pioneers asked if all related "branches" of the company (the auxiliary and the fire police) could come under one umbrella (the relief organization is another arm, but must stand alone).
"I don’t recall the reason why," Carpenter said when asked why the Pioneers made the suggestion, though she believes some of it had to do with grant requests.
"We needed a new trailer — ours was not equipped to handle food any longer," Carpenter said of the situation following recent inspections by the state. She said the auxiliary approached the fire company and was told to "do what you need to do." The fire company said it did not receive formal notification of what they intended to do.
Because the fire company and auxiliary operated as separate charters, the ladies group went out and sought grant money (from organizations like the Brossman Charitable Trust and the Irene Weidman Trust). Carpenter said they did not realize that their seeking out of a grant would possibly impact the Pioneers’ ability to receive funds.
We were working on getting the funds for the trailer, and had the plans drawn up — though she indicated they are still short by about half of the $20,000 they need.
"I don’t know why they did it … for insurance reasons or what … (we) never fully understood," Carpenter said of the request for the Ladies to come under the Pioneer umbrella.
In response to questions about this story, the Pioneer Fire Company released a written statement Wednesday morning.
"In July of 2012, the fire company went on record to conclude all dealings with the current auxiliary on Dec. 31, 2012 and to restructure the organization. This would bring all sections of the department under the umbrella of the parent organization, the Pioneer Fire Company.
"The decision to sever ties was not an easy decision," the statement continued. "The relationship with some of the leadership of the auxiliary went from an era of communicating together to a time of when the auxiliary chose to push the agenda of their own independent organization. They renamed the organization –this being done without the courtesy of asking the fire department for their input. The change was made and the fire department learned of the change after it was completed."
Carpenter could not be reached on deadline to confirm this information.
"Another issue was that the auxiliary kept demanding more time of the firefighters for activities," the release continued. "That time is no longer there. The time it takes to be a firefighter in today’s environment is enormous and does not leave a lot of time to run other activities.
"The current plan to replace the function of the auxiliary, as was explained to them at the July meeting, is to form a new group. This will be known as the Support Group, to the Pioneer Fire Company. The former auxiliary was asked to choose three auxiliary members to help restructure the organization –the fire company received no names. What we received was notification that they retained an attorney. It should be mentioned that not all auxiliary members agree with the auxiliary stance and some of them have already expressed interest in joining the new support group.
"The Pioneer Fire Company elected officers and members have been dealing with this issue in excess of a year and a half," the statement said, near its conclusion. "This has been an issue that has caused much stress in the department. It then reached a point that the elected officers recommended to the whole department to dissolve the ties with the auxiliary on Dec. 31, 2012."
Carpenter said the fire police did decide to come under the Pioneers’ umbrella, but feels their situation is different.
"The Fire Police are actually members of the fire company…we are not," she said.
Ephrata Mayor Ralph Mowen, a 40-plus-year member of the Pioneers, currently serving as a fire policeman and who also served on the restructuring committee, was asked for his take on the whole thing.
First Mowen acknowledged the recommendation that the fire police would come under the umbrella of the fire company. He said this received a "majority of support" within the group. He also said that while the fire police are indeed members of the fire company, they do not fall under the direction of the fire chief. He said that currently they are one of the few fire police organizations in the area that are a separate entity. He mentioned insurance and operating efficiencies as two reasons to make such a change.
As far as the ladies auxiliary situation, he confirmed that there is emotion on both sides of the situation. He was asked if there is anything he can do as Mayor to bring the two sides together.
"I have no authority to do that, but I have thought about it," he said Wednesday morning.
"I would like to see them sit down and discuss it," Mowen said. "If I can be of any help and act as a mediator, I will."
Attorney Kenelm L. Shirk III, when asked about the two groups working together in the future, highlighted the goal of the Pioneers.
"The intent is to have an in-house fundraising entity to benefit the fire company," Shirk said.
Carpenter said she feels there is still information missing for the auxiliary.
"We could not get a lot of our questions answered," Carpenter said — thus they did not accept the (original) offer. She said their attorney, Angela Ward of Lancaster, is currently trying to get the questions answered.
"We don’t understand why we couldn’t go on the way we were…we gave them money every year (except this one since they were saving money for the new trailer).
"They wanted to go in a new direction, so on Jan. 1 they locked the doors," Carpenter said.
On a positive note, Carpenter feels there is still room for negotiation — that these questions can still be answered and the issues resolved.
"I don’t see why not," she said. "We just want to keep it the way it is. It has worked since 1958."
She says there are approximately 25-30 active members of the auxiliary.
Carpenter just became president and has been with the organization for just under three years. According to her, however, she and her husband Mike, a firefighter, have been around fire companies for a long time.
While they wait to hear from the attorney, the group will be meeting the first Tuesday in February at Trinity Lutheran Church in Ephrata. They will continue as an organization and, according to their status, can give to other groups who are in need.
The Pioneer statement then also ended on a positive note:
"We would like to thank the past auxiliary for their past support of the fire company and they have our respect for their efforts.
"The forming of the new support group continues and the former auxiliary members will be invited to take part in that organization. We also ask the community, who has an interest in taking part in the new support group to please contact the Pioneer Fire Company or stop at the fire company on a Tuesday evening for more information. More AUXILIARY, page A6