Disgruntled firefighters describe a company in chaos

About 15 Nazareth volunteer firefighters said they will no longer associate with Vigilance Hose Co. unless changes are made with the department’s leadership.

Volunteer firefighters packed a Nazareth Borough Council fire committee meeting Monday night to express displeasure at recent events within the fire department.

Danny Keenhold, who had been the fire chief for 27 years, his brother Troy Keenhold, who served as fire company president, and vice president David Hess all resigned in January after a contentious meeting when fire company trustees voted 5-0 to approve former Mayor Carl Strye Jr. returning as a lifetime member.

The vote came less than a year after Strye was charged with stealing $8,000 from the Vigilance Hose Co. social hall.

Fire Marshal Jamie Keenhold, who is Danny Keenhold’s daughter-in-law, spoke at Monday’s council meeting. She said most of the firefighters were more concerned with the way fire company officers nominated new fire Chief John Deutsch than with Strye’s re-emergence.

Jamie Keenhold said Danny Keenhold resigned hastily in January because the fire company officials were making accusations about him and were shouting him down when he tried to speak.

At some point after that meeting, Danny Keenhold went back to the fire company and asked them to ignore his resignation and take him back as chief, Jamie Keenhold said.

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Fire company trustee Michael Keifer said the trustees agreed that Danny Keenhold could regain his position as chief, however, at the next regular monthly fire company meeting, the officers chose not to accept Danny Keenhold back and they nominated Deutsch.

“What the trustees said went out the window,” Keifer said.

Jamie Keenhold said many firefighters felt blindsided that the officers acted against the advice of trustees and nominated a new chief without offering rank-and-file members an opportunity to vote on the matter.

The “underhanded” manner in which officers and Deutsch handled themselves makes her question if she could put her life in those people’s hands while fighting a fire, Jamie Keenhold said.

Borough council members at Monday night’s committee meeting said it was up to fire company members to settle their disputes and it was not council’s role to intervene.

While it approved Deutsch to be chief earlier this month, council follows the recommendations of the fire company, council President Dan Chiavaroli said.

Council member Carl Fischl said if there is a dispute over who should be chief, that must be worked out within the department.

“You guys need to get together and resolve this,” Chiavaroli said.

Both Chiavaroli and Fischl urged firefighters to reconsider leaving the department and said they did not believe people who have dedicated themselves to helping the community would simply quit.

“If you are a devoted firefighter, you won’t drop out,” Chiavaroli said.

Keifer said the trustees are working on creating updated by-laws that would change how a fire chief is selected. Fischl asked the firefighters to stay together and vote next year with the new by-laws for a new chief.

As far as he was concerned, Fischl said, council would not get involved this year regarding the new chief.

“This is a closed issue,” Fischl said. “We need to move on.”

Outside the meeting, about 15 firefighters said they would not stay on at Vigilance any longer. The group was going to meet later in the evening and more firefighters might join them, they said. Jamie Keenhold late Monday night said eight volunteers had committed to leaving.

The fire company website lists 29 active firefighters and officers. If 15 of them quit, more than half the volunteer force would be depleted.

In a story published earlier Monday on lehighvalleylive.com, Deutsch disputed suggestions that the infighting and resignations would put public safety in jeopardy.

Nazareth could seek mutual aid from the Hecktown Volunteer Fire Co., Bushkill Township Volunteer Fire Co. and Upper Nazareth Fire Department if enough volunteers didn’t answer a call, he said.

John Best is a freelance writer. Find lehighvalleylive.com on Facebook.