Fire and rescue group's finances must be more open, new leader says

January 05, 2012|By DAVE McMILLION |
  • Dale Hill, the new president of the Washington County Fire and Rescue Association, speaks at a meeting held by the Citizens for Protection of Washington County Thursday at The Volunteer Fire Co. of Halfway.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

HALFWAY — The budgetary process for the Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association needs to be more transparent and accountable, the new president of the group said Thursday night in a meeting with a citizens group.

Dale Hill declined to say if anything would be changed in the financial process, in part, because he has not yet met with the organization’s budget committee.

However, Hill admitted that he is unsure if the association’s current budget is as explicit as it should be, although he stressed that there is not a problem with any missing money.

Hill’s comments to members of Citizens for Protection of Washington County, a local civic advocacy group, come after a series of stories published by The Herald-Mail raised questions about the finances and reporting practices of the county’s fire and rescue companies and the fire rescue association.

Hill mentioned the stories during the meeting at The Volunteer Fire Co. of Halfway, saying he was “very apprehensive” given the issues facing the association.

“I’ve kind of inherited all of this,” Hill told the nine people attending the meeting.

Hill said he could not comment on some issues involving fire departments in the city of Hagerstown.

All of that will “come out in the future,” he said.

Among the discoveries made during the newspaper’s yearlong investigation is that Western Enterprise Fire Co. has been writing checks to a business that provides workers to sell tip jars in the volunteer fire company's gaming operation — a revelation that has sparked a request for a police investigation.

The president of a for-profit cheer and dance business told The Herald-Mail that the volunteer fire company in Hagerstown had been sending a monthly check to his business in return for the parents of youth cheerleaders working in the fire company's gaming operation.

The money was used to help families offset the cost of cheer and dance training and competition, said Scott Braasch, president and co-owner of the Pennsylvania-based Cheer Tyme Inc.

Other people at Thursday’s meeting also commented on the newspaper stories.

Bob Harsh, who has worked in rescue and fire operations for Williamsport Volunteer Fire & Emergency Medical Services Inc. said it was “kind of disgraceful” to read the stories.

“There’s still some things that haven’t come out in the open yet,” Harsh said.

Hill, who replaced Glenn Fishack as president of the association, is also president of the Funkstown Volunteer Fire Co., worked for the Maryland State Fire Marshal’s Office for about five years and was a career firefighter for the city of Hagerstown.

Hill and others at the meeting talked about other challenges facing fire service in the county, such as the possibility of having paid firefighters.

Paying for fire service has been suggested in the face of the extensive training that volunteer firefighters must undergo.

Many years ago, someone could join a fire department, “grab a pair of boots and jump on an engine,” Hill said.

Now, volunteer firefighters must receive at least 100 hours of basic fire training, he said.

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