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County still awaiting list from Fairplay fire company

December 02, 2008|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN -- Ten days after requesting a list of active firefighters in the Fairplay Volunteer Fire Co., Washington County Fire and Emergency Services Director Kevin Lewis said Tuesday that he still had not received any documentation that the company meets the state's minimum requirement.

The company remains active, but surrounding fire companies are continuing to provide dual coverage for the Fairplay area, Lewis said Tuesday in a briefing for the Washington County Commissioners.

County officials have been attempting to verify that the company has sufficient resources since Nov. 11, when at least 12 of the company's members either resigned or were told that their membership had not been renewed, Lewis said.

Two of those firefighters addressed the commissioners Tuesday, arguing they had been forced out unfairly and saying that the company's issues will not be resolved until the chief and president are gone.

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"There's a problem here and it needs to be addressed," said former company volunteer firefighter Mark Kopp.

State law requires fire companies to have at least 20 members, at least 10 of whom are active members, Lewis said. The Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association, which oversees volunteer companies, has stated that it received and verified documentation that the company has at least 10 active firefighters, but Lewis has not received a copy of that documentation, he said. Lewis said he requested a copy from the association on Nov. 21.

Fire and Rescue Association President Glenn Fishack declined to comment on the matter when contacted by phone later Tuesday.

Former Fairplay Volunteer Fire Co. volunteer Robert Fraley said that the list of 10 supposedly active firefighters shown to him included fire police with no certification to fight fires and others who lacked significant firefighting experience. One person, called back into service after time away, suddenly had become certified on new equipment, he said.

"The longer that it goes before you get the list, the more opportunity they're going to have to pad the list and try to pull another fast one on the county," Fraley said.

The Fairplay company's president, Bill Pennington, contacted by phone after the meeting, denied Fraley's claims. The Fire and Rescue Association has certified that at least 10 of the company's members have the necessary credentials, Pennington said.

Kopp and Fraley told the commissioners that the Fairplay company placed a large burden on surrounding companies even before it refused to renew the memberships because the company decided to stop responding to emergency medical service calls other than cardiac arrests.

"In all honesty, Fairplay's dropping the ball for you," Fraley said.

At a vote Nov. 20 on whether to suspend the Fairplay company's membership, the Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association was one vote short of the two-thirds majority needed to suspend the company, Lewis said. There were 25 companies at the meeting -- 16 voted to suspend Fairplay's membership, eight voted not to suspend it and one abstained, Lewis said.

The commissioners said Tuesday they would still consider exercising their own authority over the company. Commissioner James F. Kercheval said he hoped a solution would come from within the company, but added the county has an obligation to use incentives such as funding or repercussions such as loss of recognition to intervene when internal problems interfere with response times or quality of service.

Kopp said quality of service already has been affected. When a fire was reported at a mobile home in Fairplay on Nov. 21, the Fairplay company only sent four firefighters, Kopp said. A total of about 31 firefighters from six county fire companies, including Fairplay, responded to that fire, according to Maryland State Fire Marshal Jason W. Mowbray.

Pennington said the company has not had any difficulty responding to calls in recent weeks, often responding with more members than before the Nov. 11 membership changes.

The commissioners asked Lewis and County Administrator Gregory B. Murray to meet with the company's chief and president, as well as the Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association this week to confirm that the company has sufficient active members and to work toward resolving its issues.

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