Earlier this summer, Bridgeville firefighter Bill Chilleo resigned as the department’s chief, leaving the post that he had held for 21 years.
The internal tensions that led to the his departure were kept relatively quiet until this week, when Chilleo’s daughter and several firefighters took their grievances to Bridgeville borough council.
The firefighters who spoke during Monday’s meeting characterized Bill Chilleo as a highly knowledgeable first responder, but also a highly abrasive leader who lost the support of his fellow firefighters and had to be asked to resign.
“He would abuse people verbally, emotionally, and in other ways that we can’t speak of here,” said Jim Altvater, president of the Bridgeville Volunteer Fire Department. “It got to the point where the entire department was going to walk out. Some guys did not want to respond to calls if [Chilleo] would be there.”
In the months since Ray Costain replaced Chilleo as chief, the department has seen a jump in membership and an increase in turnout for emergency calls, Altvater said, and Bridgeville firefighters now have formal, written operating procedures to guide them through various emergency situations.
“[Previously] we had no standard operating procedures to guide us,” Altvater said. “It was all in Bill’s head. It should have been in ours. And if you did something wrong, you got crucified.”
Chilleo’s daughter, Bri, was the first to speak during the public comment portion of the council meeting. She recounted the many achievements of her father’s career and characterized his ouster as a betrayal of the community. Bridgeville’s firefighters have “broken the trust” between residents and the fire department, she said.
“How do we ensure that public safety is the new chief’s priority?” she said.
Ray Costain, the department’s new chief, declined to delve into the details of Chilleo’s departure. Instead, he praised Chilleo’s decades of work —”There is absolutely no question that Bill has done amazing things for this fire department.”
Borough council president Michael Tolmer said that council would not weigh in on the dispute.
“This is an internal matter for the fire department,” he said. “If you go to any other community, their commissioners or their councilmen are not going to dictate who is running their fire department.
“I’ve talked to Bill. I am not happy with what happened. If there was a better way this could have happened, we would have loved to have seen it. But this is something among the volunteer firefighters in our community, all of whom volunteer their time and hundreds of hours to protect our community.”
You can watch the full meeting video below: