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Borough council in no rush to hire emergency services chief

November 29, 2005|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA.

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

Filling the vacancy created last week by the resignation of former Emergency Services Chief John Vanlandingham remains "in limbo" until an assessment of the Chambersburg Fire Department can be made, Borough Manager Eric Oyer said Monday night.

Vanlandingham, who was appointed to the post in February 2004, resigned last week citing personal reasons, but he noted there had been disagreements with some members of the council over his administration of the department in the months before he resigned.

Oyer told the borough council Monday that Vanlandingham will remain a consultant to the borough on fire and ambulance service matters for a period not to exceed six months.

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Oyer told the council he will recommend the borough not act on hiring a new chief until he has prepared a status report on the fire department. That will be some time after the beginning of the year, he said after the meeting.

Assistant Chief William Dubbs, who preceded Vanlandingham as chief, will serve as acting chief with administrative support from borough staff, Oyer said.

With Vanlandingham gone, the strategic plan for the department also remains in limbo. It had called for adding three paid firefighter positions to the staff of 18 in 2006.

In his 2006 budget review last month, Oyer told the council he "would not recommend the additional career firefighter positions if they were not part of a defined strategy for change to meet certain public safety needs."

The council still could approve the $2.5 million preliminary fire and ambulance budget but not fill the positions immediately, Oyer said Monday.

One resident blamed but did not identify council members for Vanlandingham's resignation. Peggy Eyer said her father had been a borough fire marshal years ago and had fought for the creation of a fire chief position to help stop infighting between the five volunteer fire companies that serve the borough.

"I feel certain (Vanlandingham) resigned because of micromanagement by certain members of the council," Eyer said.

"I was not gunning for the guy," Councilwoman Elaine Swartz said before the meeting. Swartz, who had closely questioned Vanlandingham during a presentation of his strategic plan for the fire department and ambulance service at an October council meeting said, "I can't vote for something if I don't believe in it, and I don't think the strategic plan had enough meat in it."

"There were parts of the strategic plan I did not believe in," Councilwoman Sharon Bigler said before the meeting.

"Based on the fact that we have a critical volunteer shortage, the idea of getting rid of a paid engine driver and having that engine depend on volunteer drivers made no sense," she said, referring to a proposal by Vanlandingham to move one truck from the Franklin Volunteer Fire Co. to the borough's McKinley Street station.

"It's all about public safety. That's been my mantra for six years," Bigler said.

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