By Elizabeth Perry
Crafton Fire Chief Mike Crown raised an alarm at a recent Crafton Borough Council meeting, but the board was quick to throw cold water on his argument.
Crown said during the May 12 meeting that proposed changes to Crafton Avenue would hinder a firetruck’s ability to turn, leaving the back of the elementary school inaccessible during an emergency. Crown also worried firetrucks would have no access to the Bradford Court Apartments due to planned bump-outs and curbs.
In an emergency, making a turn with pinpoint accuracy would be impossible, Crown said in an interview days after the meeting.
Councilwoman Kirsten Compitello addressed Crown’s complaints at the meeting by saying the intersection – which was redesigned to slow traffic near Crafton Elementary School and improve pedestrian safety as part of the Crafton Boulevard Sewer Separation Project – adheres to all applicable engineering standards. Compitello said in an interview days later that the street has been tested for compliance with the required radius for firetrucks.
“We’ve rigorously tested this and had our engineers model this,” Compitello said.
Compitello said Crown submitted a written complaint in advance of his comments at the meeting, which prompted further testing.
“We did consider the complaint but ran tests and reran the model and verified that everything was done properly,” Compitello said. She added that Crown was a member of the council when the project was approved.
Compitello’s children attend Crafton Elementary School and she was confident there would be no problems with firetruck access. Crown said he became concerned about the redesign last month when the intended curbs were painted on the street. He provided council members with a live demonstration of the difficulty the trucks would have maneuvering on May 3.
A 24-second video clip of the demonstration provided to Gazette 2.0 by Council Member Phillip Levasseur, showed a firetruck slowly moving forward, then backing up to make a turn. The board members in attendance at the demonstration did not find it concerning enough to change the established plan.
In an interview days after the meeting, Levasseur said that Crown’s recent complaints were “disheartening.”
“If there is a valid concern, that’s fine, but it’s really important people speak up before the eleventh hour,” Levasseur said.
Levasseur, who has a child going into kindergarten at Crafton Elementary School in the fall, said the school has been included in plans for the street update and was confident the fire department would be effective in responding to any fires at the school despite Crown’s doubts.
The project to update the street has been in the works since 2019 and was made possible with a $2 million GROW grant provided by the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority as well as an additional $1 million from the borough itself, Levasseur said. The project went out to bid on March 30, 2021. Crown was a member of the Crafton Borough Council at that time.
Levasseur said changing the plan now could cause additional costs to the taxpayer. Crown was invited on several occasions to give input, and the council tried to accommodate some of his requests by moving parking further away from street corners in order to increase firetruck accessibility, said Levasseur, who described the process as “transparent.”
Crown disagreed, saying the accommodations were inadequate and he didn’t believe the process was transparent.
He said he wasn’t part of any of the planning meetings that occurred and that the council had a pattern of excluding input from the fire department. Crown mentioned he raised similar concerns when Sterrett Street was narrowed, but the council didn’t act on his suggestions.
Plans for the curbs and bump-outs for Crafton Boulevard have been publicly available.
Crown said he wasn’t sent these plans.
Multiple agencies have provided support and expertise for the project, including the Pittsburgh Department of Mobility and Infrastructure, the borough’s Shade Tree Commission – which helps in the preservation of historic trees – and its Planning Commission.
Levasseur stressed that he valued Crown’s contributions and described him as “passionate” about Crafton, though they disagreed about the safety issue. Compitello also said she thought Crown was well-intentioned.
“Everybody wants the best for the borough,” Compitello said.