Firestorm continues to spread within VFC

The internal problems plaguing the Bellevue Fire Department once again have reached a boiling point, leading to raised voices and an executive session following Bellevue’s pre-council meeting on Tuesday.

The issue has become a matter of concern for Bellevue Council because in addition to the volunteer fire company, which is a private entity, the borough employs three paid firefighters who answer only to Bellevue, and not to the volunteer fire chief or fire company officers.

The past year has seen a number of volunteers resign from the company. Jenn Slavicek, who recently became a first lieutenant in the VFC, told council that last week she had taken a leave of absence from the VFC, as had one other member. Yet another member resigned, she said.

The exact nature of the problems cannot be determined for public consumption because of the employee status of the paid firefighters, which prohibits borough officials from discussing their actions in any detail. All are in agreement, however, that there are tensions between the paid and volunteer firefighters, as well as within the VFC itself.

Slavicek told council that the stress of the situation in the fire house has taken its toll on her mentally, emotionally and physically. She said that she wanted to serve as a firefighter, and was upset that she could not do so under the current hostile conditions.

“Take care of this as soon as possible,” she asked Bellevue Council.

At the heart of the controversy is Glenn Pritchard Jr., who now serves on Bellevue Council in addition to serving as assistant chief and president of the VFC. At Tuesday’s meeting, he accused at least one of the paid firefighters of telling potential volunteers not to join the VFC because of the current problems. According to council member Anthony DiTullio, Pritchard asked for a paid firefighter to be fired, something DiTullio said he could not do solely on the basis of Pritchard’s statements.

Pritchard has been cited by numerous people, including those outside the borough and its fire department, as being the center of the problems in the department, and much of that is related to operation of a Quick Response Service” (QRS) started by the VFC several years ago. The QRS was set up to respond to emergency medical calls in which it was possible that a Bellevue-based team might be able to reach a patient before the area’s ambulance service, and begin life-saving measures that could keep the patient alive until paramedics arrived.

Like ambulance companies, QRS companies are required to be directed by a hospital-based medical command, and be dispatched by Allegheny County 9-1-1.

The Bellevue QRS system lost its certification as of Jan. 1, 2018. However, numerous reports eventually were received by the borough from agencies that included medical command, NorthWest EMS, and even people in the Bellevue Fire Department that the QRS, led by Pritchard, monitored emergency radio frequencies and “self-dispatched” itself to calls, including calls outside of Bellevue.

In fact, the borough was informed by former fire chief Glenn Pritchard Sr. that he was resigning his position last March primarily because of the actions of his son.

Pritchard Jr. has previously called the reports provided to the borough “inflammatory,” and did so again at Tuesday’s meeting, which prompted DiTullio to comment, “According to you, everyone is lying except you.”DiTullio said that he had twice asked to attend the VFC meetings held each Wednesday night, and had been refused.

The discussion among council members was moved to executive session, but council president Tom Hrynda said that he would attend next week’s fire services committee meeting.