Delco’s Secret Firefighter-Operated Bar

Ever since the story broke, we’ve been fascinated about the firefighters in Delaware County, Pennsylvania who were caught running an illegal bar out of their firehouse.

A bit of background… The firefighters of Colwyn serve a small borough of .3 square miles with a population of just 2,453. Colwyn has been a dry town for decades; located near the larger municipalities of Landsdowne, Sharon Hill and Darby, it’s largely reliant on those neighbors for public services.

However, Colwyn does have a very small volunteer fire department consisting of approximately 100 neighbors. Colwyn’s population is 2,453. That means that more than 4% of the town volunteered for the FD — an admirable rate of civic participation.

Except that, if the local press is to be believed, the vast majority of Colwyn Borough Fire Company’s members just came by to get sloshed and gamble. On a raid on Thursday, May 8, the Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Liquor Control seized 10 bottles of liquor purchased outside state lines, two illegal video poker machines and approximately $2100 in cash. The firehouse (pictured) included a garage-sized barroom with a pool table and shuffleboard.

Meanwhile, the actual fire department living facilities themselves were smaller than the bar and were limited to a small room with two futon couches and a television — most non-garage space was allegedly devoted to the bar.

Although knowledge of the “secret” bar first went public in 2004 thanks to a report on WCAU-TV, legal action was not taken until the raid in May. The raid allegedly took place after state authorities were tipped off by the firefighters themselves, upset that the FD’s non-firefighting members controlled the kitty. Shortly before the raid, they all resigned en masse:

The now former firefighters said the hundred or so social club members also control the $40,000 in fire taxes raised by the borough.

“They go out and buy a 50-inch plasma TV, but we can’t get air packs,” Assistant Fire Chief Brandon Patterson said.

Among the drinkers when the State Police raided the secret firehouse bar… Well, both the mayor of Colwyn, John Fitzgerald and several borough councilmen were among ‘em. According to state police, the public officials insisted they weren’t buying drinks — just “making donations.”

All this came to a head on Tuesday, when the Colwyn borough council voted to sever the municipality’s relationship with Colwyn Fire Company Number 1.

As of the time we write this, Colwyn lacks any fire department whatsoever. Colwyn residents will have to rely on the firefighters of neighboring Darby and Collingdaale instead.

See what happens when you turn your firehouse into a bar, kids?

(And for the curious, yes, the Colwyn Fire Company website is still up. It requests that all potential members “be in good standing” with “good moral character.” Free shots of Jim for everyone!)

Firefighters Resign Over Alleged Illegal Bar In Dry Town [NBC10]
Colwyn Votes To End Relationship With Troubled Fire Company [NBC10]
Colwyn firefighters resign, citing social club raided by police [Inky]
NBC10 Eliminates Town’s Fire Company [PW]

Delco’s Secret Firefighter-Operated Bar