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City fire chief: Multi-station system ineffective

SHAMOKIN — A study assessing the Shamokin Fire Bureau and how it can best serve the community is completed.

Councilmembers and bureau officials met Tuesday with John Senft, a consultant who was hired by Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) to analyze the bureau, which consists of five companies and Shamokin Emergency Squad.

A copy of the study, which was presented in a binder about 3-inches thick, provides various recommendations that could improve the bureau and also addresses the benefits and drawbacks of multi-station and central-station services.

“Muti-station is what we’re doing now — and it’s not working,” Assistant Chief Steve Jeffery said Thursday. “The study looked at combining efforts and becoming one. Obviously, when the fire alarm goes off we are one, but individually, we are separate.”

The report was conducted upon the recommendation of past Chief Jason Zimmerman, who, in February 2018, requested council contact the DCED for the purposes of creating a study to determine the feasibility of consolidating stations.

Zimmerman had informed councilmembers that the bureau was losing a significant amount of firefighters and needed to find a way to attract new members.

Zimmerman on Thursday differed all questions to the current chief staff.

Jeffery said that four of the six stations supported the creation of the study, with one being “on the fence.” He claimed that the Independence Fire Co. feels it’s not necessary for the bureau to be under one roof.

As a member of the Friendship Fire Co. in the Fifth Ward, Jeffery understands that firefighters don’t want to lose their station identity, but he emphasized that his priorities as a chief is to get apparatus to fires as quickly as possible and ensure everyone goes home safe.

“Personally, I think it’s long overdue,” Jeffery said of the study. “With the ongoing issue of lack of volunteers and an aging department that’s not taking in many new members, it’s leaving us with few options — and options are limited.”

He mentioned that the bureau has a heavy call rate, having been dispatched 350 times in 2018. From Jan. 1 to Monday, firefighters have already been dispatched 210 times.

Data collected included monthly call volume for 2017, bureau and company bylaws, age of apparatus and a public protection classification program report, which ranks fire protection for the purpose of calculating fire insurance.

Councilman Scott Roughton, director of public safety and president of the Rescue Fire Co., said the main point of the study was reviewing the current setup of stations against all stations being under roof.

He said constructing a central station would be dependent on an area to build and grant money, which he noted is available.

“There’s some things that can be done on the city’s end (and) there’s some things that can be done on the fire department’s end,” Roughton said of the study’s many recommendations. “At no point did this gentlemen who did the study come out and say you absolutely need to do this or do that.”

Senft embedded recommendations within the study. For example, he suggests that the companies review their bylaws and remove all items relating to operations and establish them as a separate document.

Another recommendation is for the bureau to adopt an official recruiting program to attract new members.

Roughton said a recruitment program was never established because, until recently, there was not a need for it. He added that the bureau always welcomes new firefighters, and representatives will be available to answer questions near the corner of Walnut and Third streets Saturday during the “Kid Fair.”

“(The bureau) tried a few things over the years, but it’s tough with the amount of training and people working jobs,” he said of past recruitment methods.

Roughton commented that the city’s budget for the bureau is just over $90,000, which he described as extremely low for the services provided when compared to other municipalities.

He added that some apparatus is getting old, but the city’s ability to locate funding for new equipment is “tough” because it is in Act 47, a state program for distressed municipalities.

“With the budget that the fire department has, we got a fire department that’s second to none,” he said. “We got some of the best equipment out there and some of the most stringent training requirements compared to some other places around here.”

Roughton would like all companies to give 100% participation in determining what is best for the bureau and the residents of Shamokin. The next likely step, he added, is for the bureau to determine what action to take, then present it to the city for it’s support.

He noted that council and bureau staff are just starting to digest the study and anticipates that any changes will not happen overnight.

Jeffery said that all parties involved need to look at what is best for the city and its residents. In his opinion, having all apparatus under one roof rather than multiple stations is the “better option.”

“There’s still a lot to look at and nothing is guaranteed,” Jeffery said of the future of the bureau. “We are not looking at tomorrow; we are looking down the road — next year, fives years or 10 years from now, to determine where the fire department is going to go.”


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Weekend events taking Mount Carmel by storm

MOUNT CARMEL — A weekend of fun began Thursday night in Mount Carmel with the kickoff of the Mount Carmel Volunteer Emergency Services Association (MCVESA) picnic, which concludes Saturday night following the borough’s Christmas in July, hosted by Mount Carmel Downtown Inc. (MCDI).

Cathy Besser, president of MCDI, expressed her excitement for the weekend stating a lot of dedicated people wanting to make Mount Carmel better worked hard to put the events together, making the borough the place to be for the weekend.

MCVESA’s annual Picnic in the Park brought entertainment from the Mount Carmel Area Marching Band and R.A.T.L. Thursday evening, and continues tonight with Deuce from 7 to 11 p.m. and Saturday with DJ Tom from 3 to 6 p.m. and Looker from 7 to 11 p.m.

Mount Carmel Fire Chief Jack Williams Jr. said the event helps celebrate first responders by serving as a fundraiser to help the fire department with capital purchases such as fire apparatus.

The fire companies will be serving up food and there will be plenty of games and rides to keep people entertained. Kids can enjoy a blow up slide and bounce house and a castle ride, while young adults and adults can enjoy the thrill of a swing ride.

Christmas in July visits the borough Saturday at the farmer’s market in Atlas as well as downtown Mount Carmel from Third to Fifth streets on Oak Street from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Close to 30 vendors will be on hand for early Christmas shopping needs including Cute Crochet Creations, County Candlelight, Paparazzi Accessories, Doggy Do’s Grooming, Lularoe, Cheri Martin Photography and more.

Lunch can be enjoyed from County Line Kettle Corn, Linda Zalar homemade goods, Bob Knowles Italian ice, Laps Concessions, T&R Concessions and Clover Hose Fire Co.

The fun doesn’t stop with Picnic in the Park kicking off at 3 p.m. immediately following Christmas in July.

A fire apparatus parade will make its way through the borough beginning at 5 p.m., with apparatus invited from surrounding areas. Williams said judges will award trophies to out of town fire apparatus in different categories following the parade.

Williams said the annual MCVESA fund drive has kicked off. Those wishing to contribute can send donations to MCVESA, 1 N. Market St., Mount Carmel 17851.


Larry Deklinski / LARRY DEKLINSKI/STAFF PHOTO 

Elysburg’s Matt Masala pitches against Catawissa in the second game of the Lower Anthracite Teener League’s best-of-three championship series Thursday in Catwissa.


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Allegations aimed at Housing Authority director during meeting

SHAMOKIN — Bombastic is the best word to describe Thursday’s Housing Authority meeting in downtown Shamokin.

Numerous allegations were directed toward Shamokin Executive Director Ron Miller during the public comment portion of the meeting regarding issues concerning payment of contractors, personal grievances and an outright claim that his presence on the Shamokin Area Housing Authority “gives Shamokin a bad name”.

It all kicked off based on a discussion of payment, or lack thereof, concerning work done at Madison Court.

Bruce Anskis, president of Bill Anskis Company, Inc., asked the board who did the window work at Madison Court. The board noted they were unsure and that it didn’t pertain to the meeting. Solicitor Frank Garrigan said that the board “has noting to do with it” even noting “If I knew who put the windows in, I would tell you.”

Former Northumberland County Commissioner Vinny Clausi spoke up stating he wanted a clear answer to the question and that the board should have nothing to hide.

It was reiterated at this point that this particular matter regarding window work contracted at Madison Court wasn’t pertinent to the meeting at hand.

Mark Anskis, who serves as president of the Keystone Contractors Association in Harrisburg, used his time for public comment prior to the meeting to note that contractors have approached him nothing they wouldn’t work with Shamokin Housing Authority due to “mistreatment” from Miller.

“I hear it all the time,” Anskis bellowed. “It’s embarrassing”.

At a few points, Chairman David Kinder pounded the gavel trying to bring some order and decorum to the proceedings, as emotions were running high at times.

Clausi alleged that the housing authority director failed to pay a contractor (Krebs Electric, according to Clausi) for work done at Madison Court and at this point in the meeting, both Clausi and Miller exited the room briefly to look over paperwork.

“Shame on them for sticking this man for $35,000,” he stated.

“I would like Ron Miller to be more professional,” said Robert Getchey during the public comment portion of the meeting.

Ultimately, Clausi asked the board to motion for a forensic audit on the Shamokin Housing Authority to “review the books”. The board made the motion and by a vote of 4-1, it passed, thus in the future, the board will be looking into securing a company to perform the audit.

Raspberry Hill project manager Jona Diehl thanked the board for their approval for a third maintenance man at the Raspberry Hill Housing Complex.

“Everything has been so much more efficient,” said Diehl.

The board unanimously approved hiring Scott Anderson to install upgraded security cameras at the Raspberry Hill Housing complex for $52,097 to replace the existing ones that are damaged.

The Housing Authority met in an executive session thereafter and no other information was available at press time.


National
US government will execute inmates for first time since '03

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department said Thursday the federal government will resume executing death-row inmates for the first time since 2003, ending an informal moratorium even as the nation sees a broad shift away from capital punishment.

Attorney General William Barr instructed the Bureau of Prisons to schedule executions starting in December for five men, all accused of murdering children. Although the death penalty remains legal in 30 states, executions on the federal level are rare.

“The Justice Department upholds the rule of law — and we owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system,” Barr said.

The move is likely to stir up fresh interest in an issue that has largely lain dormant in recent years, adding a new front to the culture battles that President Donald Trump already is waging on matters such as abortion and immigration in the lead-up to the 2020 elections.

Most Democrats oppose capital punishment. Vice President Joe Biden this week shifted to call for the elimination of the federal death penalty after years of supporting it.

By contrast, Trump has spoken often — and sometimes wistfully — about capital punishment and his belief that executions serve as both an effective deterrent and appropriate punishment for some crimes, including mass shootings and the killings of police officers.

“I think they should very much bring the death penalty into vogue,” Trump said last year after 11 people were gunned down in a Pittsburgh synagogue.

He’s suggested repeatedly that the U.S. might be better off if it adopted harsh drug laws like those embraced by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, under whom thousands of drug suspects have been killed by police.

Trump was a vocal proponent of the death penalty for decades before taking office, most notably in 1989 when he took out full-page advertisements in New York City newspapers urging elected officials to “BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY” following the rape of a jogger in Central Park. “If the punishment is strong,” he wrote then, “the attacks on innocent people will stop.”

Five Harlem teenagers were convicted in the Central Park case but had their convictions vacated years later after another man confessed to the rape. More than a decade after their exoneration, the city agreed to pay the so-called Central Park Five $41 million, a settlement Trump blasted as “outrageous.”

The death penalty remains legal in 30 states, but only a handful regularly conduct executions. Texas has executed 108 prisoners since 2010, far more than any other state.

Executions on the federal level have long been rare. The government has put to death only three defendants since restoring the federal death penalty in 1988, the most recent of which occurred in 2003, when Louis Jones was executed for the 1995 kidnapping, rape and murder of a young female soldier.

In 2014, following a botched state execution in Oklahoma, President Barack Obama directed the Justice Department to conduct a broad review of capital punishment and issues surrounding lethal injection drugs.

That review has been completed, Barr said Thursday, and it has cleared the way for executions to resume.

Barr approved a new procedure for lethal injections that replaces the three-drug cocktail previously used in federal execution with a single drug, pentobarbital. This is similar to the procedure used in several states, including Georgia, Missouri and Texas.

Though there hasn’t been a federal execution since 2003, the Justice Department has continued to approve death penalty prosecutions and federal courts have sentenced defendants to death.

Robert Dunham, the executive director of the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center, said he was concerned the process for resuming executions was rushed.

“The federal government hasn’t carried out any executions in 15 years and so that raises serious questions about the ability to carry out the executions properly,” he said.

There are 61 people on the federal death row, according to Death Row USA, a quarterly report of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Some of the highest-profile inmates on federal death row include Dylann Roof, who killed nine black church members during a Bible study session in 2015 at a South Carolina church, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who set off bombs near the Boston Marathon’s finish line in 2013, killing three people and wounding more than 260.

About 6 in 10 Americans favor the death penalty, according to the General Social Survey, a major trends survey conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago. While a majority continue to express support for the death penalty, the share has declined steadily since the 1990s, when nearly three-quarters were in favor.

The inmates who will be executed are: Danny Lee, who was convicted of killing a family of three, including an 8-year-old; Lezmond Mitchell, who beheaded a 63-year-old woman and her 9-year-old granddaughter; Wesley Ira Purkey, who raped and murdered a 16-year-old girl and killed an 80-year-old woman; Alfred Bourgeois, who tortured, molested and then beat his two-and-a-half-year-old daughter to death; and Dustin Lee Honken, who killed five people, including two children.

The federal government would join eight states that have executed inmates or are planning to do so this year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Texas is far and away the leading state when it comes to using the death penalty, with 563 executions since capital punishment resumed in the U.S. in 1977 after a 10-year pause.

In the past 20 years, the Supreme Court has banned the execution of people who are intellectually disabled or were under 18 when they killed someone. But even as the number of people who are sentenced to death and are executed has declined steadily for two decades, the justices have resisted any wholesale reconsideration of the constitutionality of capital punishment.

The five-justice conservative majority, which includes Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s two high court picks, has complained about delaying tactics employed by lawyers for death row inmates.


Mark Gilger / MARK GILGER/STAFF PHOTO 

Paul Rider of Brady Fire Company dumps absorbent material under a sport utility vehicle leaking fluid following a two-vehicle accident Thursday morning on Route 61 near the former Pizza Hut in Coal Township.


Pelosi