Activist company

Darby’s Briarcliffe Fire Company votes to disband after members are accused of using racial slurs

A Delaware County Volunteer Fire Company, which was suspended in February, after some of its members were allegedly recorded using racial slurs and denigrating black residents, announced Wednesday that it had voted to disband.

“Unfortunately, in light of frenzied public perception not based on fact, the Briarcliffe Fire Company can no longer operate,” fire company attorney Robert C. Ewing wrote in a letter to the commissioners of the township of Darby. “Their members are volunteers who don’t want to continue risking their lives if they are not appreciated.”

The Briarcliffe Fire Company served Darby Township along with the Goodwill Fire Company and Darby Township Station 4 – all operating on a voluntary basis. At the end of January, the three companies met in a videoconference with the lawyer and the township commissioners to discuss a possible merger of the volunteer groups.

Briarcliffe members remained on roll call after the meeting adjourned and reportedly continued to disparage black volunteers from other fire companies and say it was time to leave the township because black residents continued to ‘move in. The members also reportedly mocked the name of eight- Fanta Bility, a black police child who was shot and killed outside a high school football game in Sharon Hill.

The Goodwill Fire Company sent Darby Township Commissioners the tape in February along with a summary of what Briarcliffe members said. Briarcliffe’s attorney challenged the summary in a statement Thursday, saying some of the comments were taken out of context and dismissed that a joke was made at Bility’s expense or that racial slurs were used.

Commissioners were not immediately available for comment on Thursday, and township attorney Michael Pierce said he could not speak to the details of the recording because he had not listened to it himself.

The fire station’s abrupt decision to disband has introduced a new dilemma for commissioners as local activists call on volunteers involved in the incident to face further repercussions.

“I don’t think Briarcliffe Fire Company should have been given the opportunity to resign,” said Ashley Dolcemore, co-founder of Delco Resists, an organization calling for fire company members to be banned from serving in similar volunteer roles elsewhere. .

“If you’re so hateful, it won’t change just because you changed jobs.”

But it’s unclear whether the commissioners can do anything to prevent members of Briarcliffe from accepting other volunteer first responder jobs in Darby Township, Pierce said.

“Each fire company has its own regulations at the moment,” he explained.

If former Briarcliffe volunteers attempted to set up a new fire company under a different name – a move campaigners feared – they would still have to go before the commissioners for certification.

After being alerted to the taping in February, the commissioners suspended Briarcliffe for 30 days. The commissioners set out five conditions the fire station would have to meet, including voting for new leadership, before the commissioners would consider recognizing them again.

Meanwhile, Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer has launched an investigation to determine whether the comments captured in the recording constituted crimes.

The prosecutor’s investigation concluded that the language was “truly hateful and deeply offensive” but not criminal, Stollsteimer wrote to Pierce in mid-March. The inquest simultaneously dismissed the Briarcliffe members’ claim that they were the victims of “allegedly illegal recording”.

Activists had planned to attend a meeting of commissioners on Wednesday to call for Briarcliffe to be dissolved. Ewing’s note beat them by a few hours.

For now, Pierce said the commissioners are considering their next moves.

“At this point, it’s moot,” Pierce said of a decertification vote. “We may revisit this if it becomes necessary for any reason.”

Since the recording was released, nearby fire companies have covered the areas Briarcliffe volunteers used to respond to. Pierce said that remained the plan until further notice.