Pennsylvania township shuts down entire firefighting company over Proud Boys connection

Pennsylvania township shuts down entire firefighting company over Proud Boys connection
Southern Poverty Law Center photo

A Pennsylvania township took an unprecedented step against Trump-fueled racism and violence this week, shutting down an entire volunteer firefighter company after it was revealed that the company’s vice president had ties to the Southern Poverty Law Center-designated hate group known as the Proud Boys—and that the company had no plans to take action on its own.


Haverford Township said Wednesday that one of its five fire companies had been “relieved of duty indefinitely” after officials were told by the organization that it would not dismiss a volunteer who admitted he had been in the process of joining the controversial far-right men’s group the Proud Boys.

“Given the fire company board’s failure to act, the township is compelled to take action,” the township said in a statement. “Effective by close of business Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019, the Bon Air Fire Company has been relieved of duty indefinitely.”

Bon Air has operated in service since 1918, and is one of five fire companies operating within the township. Much of its firefighting equipment, and specifically its fire trucks, are township-owned. As noted by the Philadelphia Inquirer, the volunteer, identified as Bruce McClay Jr. and listed on the company’s website as a lieutenant and vice president of Bon Air’s board of directors, allegedly tendered his resignation to the company ‘s board after his participation in Proud Boys events and initiation rites was revealed, but the company refused to accept it.

“It isn’t at this point about the volunteer,” Larry Holmes, vice president of the Haverford Township Board of Commissioners, said Wednesday. “When we became aware of the volunteer’s association with the Proud Boys, the township investigated it. The firefighter was forthcoming about it, and the firefighter resigned from Bon Air Fire Company. That was, as far as the township was concerned, the only actions that were necessary."

But when the fire company’s board refused to accept the firefighter’s resignation — and then pushed back on the township’s insistence that the firefighter be dismissed — the township decided it needed to take more drastic action, Holmes said.

Haverford Township is a relatively wealthy, largely white suburban community situated in Delaware County, west of Philadelphia. Although the township includes some of the most high-priced housing in the area (as well as multiple golf courses), certain areas of the township skew more blue-collar. The township’s website notes that it “prides itself on being a diverse and welcoming community,” and it adopted a far-reaching anti-discrimination ordinance in 2012.

The township issued a detailed statement explaining its actions.

“The volunteer’s participation in an organization described as an extremist group and the Bon Air Fire Company’s failure to address this matter conflicts with the public policy of Haverford Township, which includes ensuring that all persons are treated fairly and equally, and that all persons enjoy the full benefits of citizenship,”

Bon Air also issued a statement, stressing its long history of service to the community and contending it had no reason to believe that someone who actively and persistently sought membership to a white supremacist, neo-fascist hate group, one tied to the Charlottesville marches, and one which regularly seeks to threaten, menace, and incite political violence against non-whites, could possibly present a problem when performing his duties in a township uniform. According to the fire company’s statement, “He has broken no law and committed no crime.”

But that’s not the issue. The issue is that this fellow acts in a quasi-official capacity as a first responder, using equipment owned by the township. He is permitted the privilege to be in service by the good graces of the township. He has no “right” to that job. The township has a policy that promotes inclusiveness and non-discrimination. Part of the rationale for that policy is to reassure the public that public services will be meted out without hint or suspicion of discrimination. McClay’s active participation in a violent hate group—whatever his formal status within that group—clearly demonstrates that he cannot fulfill this intended purpose.

As stated by Steve D’Emilio, Ward 1 Commissioner for Haverford and quoted in the Inquirer article:

“Listen, they represent the township,” he said. “Even though they’re a volunteer group, they represent the township. And you can’t have someone who represents the township belonging to any hate groups. You can’t have it.”

Only in the era of Trump would this require so much explanation.

The township’s firefighting services will be adequately handled by the remaining four fire companies. In the interim, McClay (apparently) is still on Bon Air’s roster, which remains closed until the issue is resolved.

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