Haverford reinstates Bon Air Fire Company after flap over member with ties to extremist group

Less than a week after controversy shuttered the Bon Air Fire Company, Haverford Township officials announced Monday night that the volunteer outfit will reopen.

“The fire trucks and apparatus will be returned to Bon Air and Bon Air will be recertified to provide firefighting services as soon as soon as our township manager so recommends to this board,” said 5th Ward Commissioner Andy Lewis, reading from a short statement.

The news came during a regularly scheduled meeting of the Haverford Township Commissioners.

The township shut down Bon Air, one of five volunteer fire companies serving Haverford, after it refused to accept the resignation of a lieutenant with the company who had ties to a far-right extremist group.

There was standing room only when the Haverford Board of Commissioners met for the first time since Bon Air volunteer firefighter company was shut down on Wednesday September 4th. (Emily Cohen for WHYY)

The township said Bruce McClay tried to resign after admitting he had attended events run by the group, which multiple news outlets have identified as the Proud Boys. The group describes itself as “western chauvinists who refuse to apologize for creating the modern world” and it is considered a hate group by the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center. While the group claims it does not support racism, the man who organized the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville became a member of the Proud Boys before putting together the event.

Bon Air initially defended its decision to reject McClay’s resignation, saying in a statement that McClay was exercising his right to assemble.

By Monday, the company had changed course. In a Facebook statement posted hours before Monday’s township meeting, Bon Air said it was a “mistake” to ignore McClay’s resignation and vowed to have sensitivity training for its members.

“In focusing on our relationship with the individual volunteer, the Fire Company did not recognize the broader impact of our decision on the Haverford community, the community which we are sworn and committed to serve,” read part of the statement.

The commissioners did not say whether McClay will be reinstated to the 37-member fire company. It will reopen once the commissioners approve a recommendation from the township manager.

During the packed meeting, the commissioners got an earful from residents of the Delaware County township, who largely decried the decision to close Bon Air because of McClay’s actions.

“I no longer recognize Haverford Township. I do not recognize my home,” said longtime resident and conservative newspaper columnist Christine Flowers, adding that McClay had a constitutional right to “investigate” the group.

Steve Ogden disagreed, saying McClay should not have a role with Bon Air, even when the company reopens.

To him, it’s a matter of public safety. He worries that someone like McClay would serve people differently.

“I don’t think a member of a hate group should be able to make life and death decisions as a first responder, whether they’re a firefighter, whether they’re an EMT, whether they’re a police officer,” said Ogden, a self-described Democrat.

Jim Dougherty, whose family lives near the Bon Air station, said the township “failed” the community when it decided to close the company.

“I don’t care about political agendas and all that crap,” said Dougherty. “The one thing I do know is as elected officials your number one job is the safety of the community and you failed.”

Haverford Township Commissioner Dan Siegel has lived in the area for more than three decades, and said the controversy was a teachable moment.

“It demonstrates that we are a diverse township with diverse views, but we do listen,” he said.

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