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Pa. chief hanging up his fire hat

September 20, 2007|By JENNIFER FITCH

WAYNESBORO, PA. - Ron Flegel has been putting out fires for more than four decades in Waynesboro, but, with a sorrowful vote Wednesday, it was his career that was extinguished.

In accepting the fire chief's retirement with regret, the Waynesboro Borough Council acknowledged that many of Flegel's greatest accomplishments were the ones putting out fires within the department.

"He took over this job when there was a little turmoil going on," said Councilman Richard "Dick" George.

Flegel, 66, was hired as fire chief four years ago, a time when the council was dealing with the aftermath of Dale Fishack Jr.'s resignation.

When he resigned, Fishack was charged with misdemeanor theft for allegedly taking fire department money. The charges were later dropped.

"It has been wonderful here recently to have the fire department run smoothly," Councilman Allen Porter said.

Several council members paused to thank Flegel.

"It's tough," Flegel said. "It's been my life."

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Flegel said he doesn't plan to remain active in the department and said much of his reasoning had to do with age.

Nationwide statistics indicate that firefighter deaths often happen to those in their late 40s or 50s who experience heart problems responding to or fighting fires, Flegel said.

"This job is not an old person's job, but the younger volunteers aren't coming on. The dedicated volunteers are staying on longer," he said.

Flegel's last day will be Feb. 19, 2008, although most of January and February will be spent on earned leave.

"It wasn't an easy decision to leave at the end of the year. I tried to do the best I could do, and I hope the next person has something to build on," he said.

Craig Newcomer encouraged his fellow councilmen to use public input when selecting a new fire chief, who will be a full-time driver for the department. Flegel's employment with the Borough of Waynesboro was as a paid driver.

It could take four to five months to administer a Civil Service exam and hire someone, Borough Manager Lloyd Hamberger said.

Hamberger and Flegel joked about how the borough manager tried to ignore the resignation a few times.

In 2005, Flegel's focus was on fundraising as the 525-member, volunteer department purchased a tower truck and a 1,500 gallon-per-minute pumper for a total cost of $865,000. He then hosted an open house in the fall to introduce the community to the newest of the department's seven firetrucks.

Department data shows that Flegel responds to half of the 600 annual calls for service, which are primarily in the Borough of Waynesboro, Quincy Township and Washington Township.

Flegel, a humble man with a quick grin, said he maintains no specific plans for his retirement.

"I'm not going to miss getting out of bed at three in the morning when it's 10 degrees and playing in the water," he said.

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