York Twp. assistant fire chief cited by police

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

Police have cited York Township's assistant fire chief, alleging he improperly used the emergency lights on his duty vehicle to pull over a driver.

If found guilty, Assistant Fire Chief Scotty Bowman, 32, who lives in the township, could face a substantial fine, plus about $150 in court costs and fees.

The summary traffic ticket has a minimum fine of $500 and a maximum fine of $1,000, according to PennDOT spokeswoman Fritzi Schreffler.

Friday, Aug. 18, 2017--Goodwill Fire Station No. 1 in York Township. Bill Kalina photo

When asked why a warning to Bowman would not have sufficed, York Area Regional Police Chief Tim Damon said there have been several other instances of York Township fire officials following drivers after roadway encounters involving fire apparatus.

Bowman was in a vehicle during one of those instances, he said.

The chief said fire officials don't have the legal authority to pull over a driver for a traffic violation.

"We thought it was best ... to make a statement that this wasn't acceptable," Damon said. "I personally cannot recall this occurring with any other fire department in our area."

Wendy Tracey, president of York Township's Goodwill No. 1 fire station, defended Bowman's actions, saying other drivers create unsafe conditions in front of the fire station when fire apparatus are leaving or returning.

"We feel he didn't do anything wrong," she said, adding they were surprised to learn Bowman had been cited.

The allegations: York Area Regional Police filed the citation Monday, Aug. 14, for an incident that happened July 17 in front of the York Township fire station, 2318 S. Queen St.

According to Damon, a fire truck was returning to the station and had pulled onto the concrete pad in front of the building. The truck's driver was starting to pull back onto the road to position the apparatus to back it into the station garage, Damon said.

"They had their emergency lights on, and they also had their right turn signal on," he said.

A passenger car drove around the fire truck, according to the chief.

Friday, Aug. 18, 2017--Truck 19 at Goodwill Fire Station No. 1 in York Township. Bill Kalina photo

Damon said in Pennsylvania, it's illegal to pass emergency vehicles in front of their garages while the emergency vehicles are leaving on a call or returning from one. The emergency vehicle must have its emergency lights on for this traffic law to apply, he said.

"It's one of those obscure traffic laws, but it does exist," the chief said.

However, he said in this case it wasn't really clear what the fire truck was doing, and that once it was out of the lane of travel, the passenger vehicle kept going as the truck started to pull back onto South Queen Street.

Followed car: Bowman was a few vehicles behind, driving the duty chief's SUV. He saw what happened and followed the passenger car as it drove away, according to Damon.

Bowman turned on his emergency lights, pulled over the vehicle and informed the driver it's illegal to pass a fire truck that's entering or leaving its garage, Damon alleges.

Tracey acknowledged Bowman turned on the SUV's emergency lights. She said he only intended to get the license plate number of the black Dodge Ram that had just passed the fire truck — not pull it over.

"He put his lights on to get around the fire apparatus," she said. "As soon as he went around the truck, the lights went off."

By that time, the woman who was driving the Dodge had already pulled over, according to Tracey.

"We're talking about maybe 100 feet," she said.

'Pleasant' exchange: Bowman got out of his SUV and spoke with the woman, who apologized, Tracey said.

"He was very pleasant to her and told her to have a nice day," she said. She confirmed Bowman didn't get the license plate number.

Tracey said the Dodge was "flying" down the road and forced the driver of the ladder truck to slam on the brakes.

"She almost hit the truck and actually forced a car in the opposing lane to go up over a curb," Tracey said, adding there is video of what happened. 

Friday, Aug. 18, 2017--Goodwill Fire Station No. 1 in York Township. Bill Kalina photo

Bowman declined comment for this article through Tracey. She said that's because it's a pending court case.

Tracey said she doesn't yet know whether Bowman intends to fight the citation.

Damon said police investigated after receiving a tip.

Tracey said she suspects that tip came from a former member who has a "poor relationship" with the fire station. It did not come from the Dodge Ram driver, she said.

'Too dangerous': Fire police officers used to stop traffic on South Queen Street to allow fire trucks to back into their station, but that practice was stopped because several of the officers were nearly struck by vehicles, according to Tracey.

"It's just too dangerous. People are looking at their phones and everyone's in a hurry," she said. "We can replace equipment. We can't replace our members."

It's long been a concern of the station, Tracey said, and York Area Regional Police have previously advised fire officials to get license plate numbers and alert police.

"We get so frustrated. People just keep flying by," she said. "I can't tell you how many cars we almost hit every week because they won't yield to fire trucks."

For now, she said, York Township Fire Chief Nate Tracey — her husband — has instructed township fire officials to stop getting license numbers by following unsafe vehicles until fire officials can determine from police an acceptable response.

Wendy Tracey said if Bowman pleads or is found guilty, she hopes the members of the fire station vote to pay the fine for him.

"We might have a car wash," she said, but she made it clear no taxpayer or township money would be used.

She said Bowman could use the help because he's been paying uncovered medical expenses for his 2-year-old son, who had brain cancer.

Firefighter of the year: Bowman was named the station's firefighter of the year because he responded to more calls than any of his colleagues, according to Wendy Tracey.

"He helps at all our functions and he actually comes out in the middle of the night for ... things we know (aren't emergencies)," she said, such as debris-removal calls and automatic fire alarms.

"He's a very dedicated member and a very good firefighter," Wendy Tracey said.

She said she views the citation as merely a bump in the road and predicted it won't affect the good working relationship between York Township's firefighters and York Area Regional Police — "although they did whip us at tug-of-war" at Dallastown's National Night Out celebration earlier this month.

"They were impressive," she admitted.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.