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Fairplay fire company representatives face task force's questions

August 20, 2012|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com
  • Paul Miller, left, chairman of the task force to study the Fairplay Volunteer Fire Co., and Charles R. Summers, deputy director of the Washington County Division of Emergency Services, ask questions during Monday night's meeting at the Washington County Agricultural Education Center near Sharpsburg.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

Fairplay Volunteer Fire Co.’s chief and president faced questions Monday from other members of a task force working to revive the suspended company.

This was the task force’s first time hearing directly from officials with firsthand knowledge of the company’s problems.

More than 40 people sat in the audience at Washington County Agricultural Education Center for Monday’s meeting, listening to Chief Leonard Heller and President Bill Pennington field a number of questions about the company’s operations, membership and shortcomings.

The county commissioners created the task force last month when they suspended the fire company for not responding quickly enough to some of its calls in recent years.

Pennington said the fire company should have been afforded due process, but wasn’t.

This was the first time he’s had the opportunity to present the fire company’s side in at least three years, he said.

Pennington said county officials have not communicated with him and he has only heard secondhand, from newspaper reporters, when the company was threatened with suspension in 2009, for a similar reason, and again this year.

During the first five months of this year, the company was considered to have a poor response time for 44 of its 167 calls, or 26.3 percent.

Pennington said he thought they all were EMS calls. However, Charles R. Summers, Washington County’s deputy director of emergency services, said 34 were medical calls and 10 were fire calls.

Pennington said he thought Fairplay’s main problem was EMS. He suggested possible changes, such as having an ambulance stationed in Fairplay.

He said that if Fairplay started its own EMS service, it could create a turf battle with other local EMS providers, but if the county initiated it, it could work.

Task force members — who chose Paul Miller as their chairman — raised some of the same points they brought up last week, at the group’s first meeting, when Pennington and Heller were absent.

On Monday, they asked about Fairplay members who allegedly were dismissed from the fire company a few years ago for not paying their $1 dues; allegations that firefighters didn’t have access to adequate bathrooms; and the process for getting a form to apply to be a member.

They also explored other angles, such as what duties and oversight the president has and the difficulties of getting volunteers who are allowed to leave their jobs to answer emergency calls.

Task force member Tim Almany asked that Heller and Pennington provide documents and data the task force asked for last week, but did not get yet.

He also directly took Fairplay’s representatives to task. “Children make excuses,” he said. “Professionals find solutions.”

Earlier, Pennington said a frayed relationship might have prevented the company from working with outside forces to improve. He likened it to someone who was punched in the mouth, then stops talking to the attacker.

The commissioners gave the task force 90 days to create a report with recommendations for how the company can improve and start up again.

The task force is scheduled to meet again on Monday at 7 p.m., also at the Washington County Agricultural Education Center.

Summers said anyone who would like to speak at a future task force meeting should contact him at csummers@washco-md.net or 240-313-2921.

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