Fire company, auxiliary part ways in Ephrata
BY LARRY ALEXANDER, Staff Writer
After 55 years of "marriage," the Ephrata Pioneer Fire Company and the ladies of the Pioneer Auxiliary are divorced.
Fire company president James Kiefer, in a statement released to the media, said Pioneer had been attempting to "bring all sections of the (fire) department under the umbrella of the parent organization."
On Feb. 1, Pioneer also will take over the fire police service, absorbing its membership.
The auxiliary, however, opted to remain independent. The move led to harsh words, hurt feelings and a parting of ways as Pioneer locked the auxiliary out of the fire hall on Jan. 1.
"None of us have gone anywhere near the building since," auxiliary president Nadine Carpenter said.
Kiefer claimed that the auxiliary's leadership "went from an era of communicating together to a time ... when the auxiliary chose to push the agenda of their own independent organization."
Similarly, Pioneer's taking over the 50-plus-year-old fire police service does not sit well with many of that group's old-timers.
Carman Peters, with more than 45 years service, said the take-over was sealed at a recent consolidation meeting where firemen greatly outnumbered fire police members.
"They outvoted us," Peters said. "We didn't have a chance."
The $2,000 allotment the borough gives to fund the fire police will be turned over to Pioneer.
Peters believes the fight is about money.
"They want our money and the women's treasury to all go into their pot, so they can control it all," Peters said.
Problems began last year when the auxiliary approached the fire company for help purchasing a new, larger food trailer.
The auxiliary found a company willing to build a new trailer for about $25,000. To help foot the cost, the auxiliary received local grants for about half the amount. They were shocked when their actions angered the fire company, auxiliary trustee Gale Martin said.
"They acted as if we had done something horrible," Martin said. "Things snowballed from there."
Among the auxiliary's concerns is that a merger would require them to apply for memberships to Pioneer, which could be refused. Also, they would have no voting rights, and years of service could be nullified.
The auxiliary claimed Pioneer was "increasingly questioning" their actions and "attempting to take control of their activities," according to a letter written by their attorney, Angela M. Ward.
Ward's letter described a July 25, meeting between the two organizations, during which fire company members "proceeded to berate the auxiliary" for actions that Pioneer claimed were not permitted. These included shopping for the new trailer, obtaining the grants, and donating funds to the still-independent fire police.
Ward said that neither group's charter required such permission, nor directed where funds could be donated.
At one point, the fire company requested the auxiliary surrender its 1958 charter. The women refused.
"We weren't going to give up our charter," Carpenter said.
Auxiliary members say they perform functions such as selling tickets for fire company events, holding fund-raising meals and making and selling Easter candy.
"We raise funds for them," member Kathleen Dissinger said. "They're shooting themselves in the foot."
Elaine Wise, the sole remaining charter member, said, "By locking out the auxiliary, the fire company eliminated all our efforts of fundraising, such as the Easter candy sale, which is our biggest money-maker. Those funds provided the bulk of the donation we made each year to them, and those donations will cease."
Kiefer's statement announced a new fund-raising effort, called the Support Group to the Pioneer Fire Company, which was explained to the auxiliary at the July 25 meeting. At that time, he said, the auxiliary was asked to supply three names "to help restructure the new organization."
"The fire company received no names," Kiefer wrote. "What we received was notification that they retained an attorney."
With their link to the fire company severed, the Pioneer Auxiliary will soon become Ephrata Community Auxiliary and have a broader focus.
"We're going to continue as an organization, and look at other ways we can benefit the community," Carpenter said. "That's not to say if the fire company has a need, we wouldn't do it. We'll just keep our eyes and ears open for anywhere there's a need."
Carpenter said she feels the fire company did not "believe we'd fight" the merger.
"They thought we'd just give in," she said.
Ralph Dissinger, a long-time fire policeman, said he felt the fire company should run its own organization and leave the fire police alone.
"But we were basically told 'you either eat off our plate, or get the heck out,'" he said.