One Vandergrift resident is taking matters into his own hands when it comes the controversy surrounding the banner honoring late Vandergrift Police Officer Robert Kirkland.
Just three weeks after the Hometown Hero banner honoring Kirkland went up, council voted 5-1 on Tuesday to have the banner removed because they believe the Hometown Hero banners should be only for veterans.
Resident Jim Dunmire is starting a petition to keep it and any future banners that honor fire, police and EMS workers.
“I’m hoping to set up somewhere publicly where people can come sign it,” Dunmire said. “My plan is to get as many signatures as I can from borough residents.”
Dunmire hopes to be out on Saturday to get signatures from residents, taxpayers, property owners and voters in the borough who are at least 18 years old. No specific time or location had been set as of Friday afternoon.
The banner program, started in fall 2016 with the first banners going up Memorial Day 2017, is sponsored by Vandergrift Fire Department No. 1. Fire department officials said they never specified the program was intended only to recognize veterans.
Council members claim the program was presented to them as veterans-only and received complaints from area veterans when they saw Kirkland’s banner. Council has said they support honoring fire, police and EMS is other ways, but they were “blindsided” by the Kirkland banner.
The local Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion posts have said they have no problem with the banner.
Kirkland died in June from complications from sepsis, and the banner was placed on a utility pole outside the police department.
The banner was installed in August as a surprise for Kirkland’s wife, Vicki, and their two sons, Connor, 13, and Cooper, 10.
Although Dunmire is a lifelong member of the fire department, he said the petition isn’t affiliated with the department or the banner program. He said he wanted to take on the project himself.
“I’m getting a lot of positive feedback for it,” he said. “I’m going to make it available and I’ll have extra copies of it.”
He plans to present the petition to council at their October meeting.
“My goal is to get at least 1,000 (signatures) — there are strengths in numbers,” he said. “If I go (to council) and I’ve got a quarter or even a third of the residents of Vandergrift Borough,pr it should open some eyes.”
Emily Balser is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Emily at 724-226-4680, email@example.com or via Twitter @emilybalser.