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Using fire truck to fill pool lands Town Line volunteers in hot water

The moral of this story is: Using a public fire engine to fill a private pool is wrong.

Or, water is really cheap.

The story began Sunday night, when a Lancaster tipster called the village fire chief's office to complain that a fire engine was being used to fill a backyard pool on Pearl Street.

Upon investigating, Lancaster Fire Chief Robert Herget found Stephen Coffed and Christopher Robinson, two members of the Town Line Volunteer Fire Department, preparing to return to their station on Broadway in Lancaster with one of the department's fire engines.

Coffed admitted using the engine to fill his backyard pool, then tapping a hydrant in front of his house to replenish the engine's water tank, Herget said.

"I informed him that we don't allow that in the village," he said, "and I would have to inform the Village Board."

Coffed apologized and said he wasn't aware of village policy, Herget said. The firefighter also said his Town Line chief had given permission for him and Robinson to borrow the fire truck.

The village mayor and trustees were not pleased. At their Monday meeting, they demanded Coffed pay for the hydrant water he used or face possible theft charges.

"It's astounding, the nerve of some people," Mayor William Cansdale said later.

Dan NeMoyer, Erie County Water Authority spokesman, said residents need a permit to tap a hydrant for private purposes. Unauthorized hydrant use can be subject to legal and criminal actions.

Town Line Chief David Szczudlik Jr. said he let Coffed and Robinson borrow the fire engine, but never gave them permission to tap the village hydrant.

He also clarified that the men used only about 200 gallons of water -- enough to fill Coffed's kiddie pool.

Coffed, reached Wednesday, said his family had been pressuring him for a while to top off the vinyl splash pool, which is no more than 2 feet deep.

"I got tired of being nagged about it, and this seemed like an easy fix," he said.

At the Water Authority's rate of $2.81 per 1,000 gallons, The Buffalo News estimates Coffed owes the village 56 cents.

Cansdale burst into laughter when he heard the figure and was dumbfounded that anyone would borrow a fire engine for such a small task.

"Basically, it's still wrong, regardless of the money," he said. "It seems like a lot of effort this guy went through to avoid 56 cents in water charges, and then to invite the public scrutiny."

Coffed said that while using the fire engine and hydrant was a mistake, he thinks the matter has been overblown. He added that, as a volunteer, he has put in 19 years between the Village of Lancaster and Town Line departments, and contributes hundreds of hours each year.

Szczudlik said both men have been suspended for 60 days.

e-mail: stan@buffnews.com

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