Former Pa. fire chief blames demotion on politics

Jeannette Council unanimously decided Tuesday to move Vance Phillips back to captain and elevate Bill Frye to the role of chief

By Renatta Signorini
Tribune-Review

JEANNETTE, Pa. — Jeannette Council demoted its fire chief this week in a move the department's former leader called political.

Council unanimously decided Tuesday to move Vance Phillips back to captain and elevate Bill Frye to the role of chief.

"I'm not a Democrat and that is obviously a big motive in the reversing of all that was built in the last number of years," Phillips said in a statement.

He said he learned of his demotion when he was handed an agenda at council's reorganization meeting. So did attorney Scott Avolio, who was replaced as solicitor by Fayette County attorney Timothy Witt of the law firm Watson Mundorff Brooks & Sepic.

"I'm not the only one who, without even a professional courtesy or notice, was shown the door," Phillips said.

City council is composed of four Democrats — including two new members sworn in this week — and one Republican.

Phillips was hired in June 2015 and appointed chief of the paid department in March 2016. Then, he replaced Capt. Joe Matijevic, who held the post for five years.

Mayor Curtis Antoniak said he supported the move.

"I want to bring the fire department back to a brotherhood," he said. "I feel Bill will be a very good leader of his men. I believe Bill will be very well respected."

Frye said Thursday it is an honor to be appointed chief. He recalled hanging around at the department as a third-grader, learning about the role of firefighters. He has been a fireman in Jeannette for more than 10 years and was hired as captain in June 2016.

"I want to keep the tradition alive in the fire department" while providing the best service at a low cost for taxpayers, Frye said.

The department has three full-time paid firefighters who respond to calls along with on-call firefighters.

The chief's salary is set at $49,000. Frye will make an additional $500 annually as fire marshal.

Copyright 2017 Tribune-Review

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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