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Conflict erupts at meeting about Fairplay Volunteer Fire Co.

August 27, 2012|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com

Monday was the second time in two months that a group of Fairplay-area residents came to a public meeting to speak out about their local fire company.

The first was last month, when the Washington County Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 to suspend Fairplay Volunteer Fire Co. indefinitely for not responding quickly enough to all of its calls.

Some of the same people who spoke last month stepped to the podium on Monday — including Rocky Willis, who directly asked Fairplay’s chief, Leonard Heller, and president, Bill Pennington, questions about training and disciplinary procedures.

As Willis suggested another way Fairplay could use one of its vehicles, Donna Heller, an EMT and wife of the chief, from the audience, challenged comments Willis previously made about Fairplay’s response to an emergency call.

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“I’m tired of your lies,” Donna Heller called out, but Willis continued with her questions.

There were a few other confrontational moments during the meeting between members of the audience, and between the audience and task force members. One woman accused critics of the fire company of airing personal grievances.

Acknowledging that the fire company study was an emotional issue, Paul Miller, the task force’s chairman, threatened to have a couple of audience members removed if they didn’t settle down.

Shortly after he arrived, County Administrator Gregory B. Murray debated an audience member who questioned the county’s authority to shut down an independent volunteer fire company.

Donna Heller signed up to speak, but declined when her name was called.

All of the other speakers — about 10 — were critical of the fire company.

Some described themselves as former members who either left or were forced out because of politics and personality conflicts. Most said they’d return to the fire company, but only if new leaders were in power.

Bob Fraley said he joined the company several years ago, but quit in 2008 when Pennington labeled several members “troublemakers and bad influences.”

Doug Moyers said the fire company’s response rate started dropping when several members were forced out in 2008.

The county commissioners gave the task force 90 days to come up with a report on how the fire company can be improved and allowed to answer calls again.

Task force member Tim Almany repeated his same plea from the previous meeting: that Leonard Heller and Pennington provide a list of documents they were asked to compile two weeks ago.

Pennington said he’d have the documents ready for the next meeting, which will be Monday at 7 p.m.

After one meeting at the county’s emergency management office, the task force has met twice at the Washington County Agricultural Education Center on Sharpsburg Pike, where the next meeting will be.

Miller had audience members come up to speak at a podium with a microphone. But, just as with the last meeting, the audience could not hear much of the discussion among task force members.

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