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Commissioners had little choice but to suspend Fairplay fire company

August 03, 2012

Among the basic duties that are still prescribed to government, austerity or no, is fire protection. It’s a life-or-death task that depends on discipline and dependability.

That’s why the Washington County Board of Commissioners could not afford to toy around any longer while the Fairplay Volunteer Fire Co. attempted to get its act together.

The commissioners properly voted 4-1 to suspend operations at Fairplay this week, while a task force reorganizes the failing department.

This was not a gray area, or a decision based on subjectivity or interpretation. The records are long and clear: Fairplay does not reliably answer its fire and rescue calls in an acceptable amount of time. Too much property and too many lives are at stake to allow this to stand.

According to county numbers, the fire department had a “failed response” — a failed response means it took more than 10 minutes to arrive at the site of an emergency, if it responded at all — for 26.3 percent of its calls from Jan. 1 through May 31 this year. The “failed response” rate was 22.6 percent last year and 12 percent in 2010.

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Clearly, the situation was getting worse.

Those officials who argued that the community would somehow be hurt if Fairplay were shut down should explain how this is true, seeing as how there’s a one in four chance of an extended wait for help. A game of Russian roulette offers more generous odds than this.

As the task force sorts out the roots of Fairplay’s problems, the commissioners should make clear to the panel that under no circumstances should Fairplay be allowed to resume operations with its current leadership still at the helm.

Staffing any volunteer operation is a perpetual challenge, and other county companies are dealing with a shortage of volunteers. But they are still serving their communities as they deserve to be served.

In the face of declining performance, Fairplay did not take any obvious steps to right the ship until the threat of suspension loomed. And then its response was too little, too late.

For years there have been rumblings that new blood and young talent are not given a chance of success under the old guard at Fairplay.

Even if these complaints are exaggerated, or are the result of clashes in management styles, they may be making people reluctant to volunteer at Fairplay.

Beyond that, the cold numbers speak for themselves: The present leadership, for whatever reason, is not getting the job done. Perpetuation of their leadership might further divide an already polarized community.

The people of Fairplay deserve the protection of a functional fire company.

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