Chad Livelsberger can stand at the rear of the Wrightsville Fire Department’s station, where he is the fire chief, throw a stone and hit the Route 462 bridge that connects the York County borough with Columbia.
But the department, despite being the closest fire company to the bridge, is not the first one called if there’s an accident on the bridge. The Columbia Fire Department is, and it is more than a mile from its side of the bridge.
Livelsberger discussed the situation, and a tense relationship between the two fire departments, at Wrightsville Borough Council’s Feb. 3 meeting.
He said some fire department officials in Columbia have called the Wrightsville department “dangerous.” And that irks Livelsberger because he said his department is state certified and prepared to respond to all emergencies in a professional manner.
“My residents and (fire department) members are more important than ego,” he said in an interview. “I would never jeopardize the safety of our residents or our members because of that.”
Previously, Wrightsville was on the list of first due fire departments for fires in Columbia, Livelsberger and Councilman Michael Gromling said. Now, for reasons Livelsberger doesn’t know, Wrightsville has been placed on the list for second alarms. Livelsberger said he has had no emails, phone calls or letters from Columbia to explain why.
Gromling thinks he knows the reason. He estimates that Wrightsville Fire Department arrived on Columbia’s scenes before Columbia 75% of the time.
“They were upset that Wrightsville beat them to their calls,” Gromling said.
In January, Livelsberger and a crew of eight firefighters were in the Wrightsville station when they heard the call for a fire in Columbia with two people trapped who were later found dead. But because Wrightsville was not part of the first alarm, they were not dispatched.
Livelsberger made the decision to respond anyway, even though he’s not really supposed to, because he felt it was the right thing to do.
After the council meeting, Gromling said tensions between the two fire departments has been ongoing for decades. He said the relationship was “really bad in the ’90s” and improved somewhat through the 2000s.
Now “everything Wrightsville does is wrong, and everything Columbia does is right,” Livelsberger said during the meeting.
Gromling did say that a member of Columbia Borough Council contacted him, and they set up a meeting between the two boroughs’ emergency services committees and the fire chiefs to discuss the issues.
LNP emailed questions about the relationship between the two fire departments to Columbia Fire Chief Doug Kemmerly, and he left a voicemail asking to call him back. LNP returned that call but did not reach him, and he did not respond to the emailed questions.