West Hazleton Fire Company Raided after State Audit

WEST HAZLETON -- State and local police raided the West Hazleton Fire Company Thursday morning, seizing documents and computers.

Police are looking to find out how the fire company spent $54,000 it received from the state in the last two years.

Investigators started asking questions just days before Christmas when the state auditor general's office released the results of its own audit of the West Hazleton Fire Company.

Since then, police have shown up to the fire company twice with subpoenas.

Firefighters from the West Hazleton Fire Company believe they are one of the most talented and trustworthy units in northeastern and central Pennsylvania.

But now, the company is involved in what appears to be a criminal investigation as state and local police seized boxes of potential evidence from the fire station on South Fourth Street.

"We're serving a search warrant on the building itself and taking anything, financial records, computers, anything related to financial improprieties of the fire company," said West Hazleton Police Chief Brian Buglio.

The investigation began in December when the state auditor general's office found it could not determine how the fire company spent $54,000 dollars it received from the state over the past two years.

Of that money, $53,000 is listed as being used to buy equipment, but with no receipts or documents to show what was bought.

More than $900 was spent on E-ZPass even though the West Hazleton Fire Company is more than 30 miles from the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Some in West Hazleton knew there was an investigation into the fire company, but this raid does not answer most of the community's questions.

"These people are out trying to save people's lives and in return, that's what happens, it's terrible," Heather Sutton said.

"These fire companies work so hard to build up their funds. and it's all for the support of the people who are going to take care of the fires and all," said Nicholas Cassano.

There have been no arrests, but Shawn Evans resigned as West Hazleton fire chief last week.

"All I know is a new fire chief was assigned by the borough, an interim chief, because of the resignation of the old fire chief. Why the old fire chief resigned, I can't answer that," Chief Buglio said.

Despite the raid on the fire company, West Hazleton's police chief says the investigation is not affecting firefighting operations or compromising the safety of people in the borough. The fire company is still running as usual.

40.957698 -75.992314