Task force gathers information on past, present problems facing Fairplay fire company

September 03, 2012|By JENNIFER FITCH |

SHARPSBURG — A task force evaluating the Fairplay Volunteer Fire Co.’s future learned more Monday about problems in the company’s past and heard from other organizations about how they handle their operations.

Issues with Fairplay Fire Co. staffing levels and lacking certifications started years ago, according to Kevin L. Lewis, Washington County’s director of emergency services.

In remarks during a meeting at the Washington County Agricultural Education Center, Lewis called the problems “ongoing, repetitive issues primarily based around staffing” after reading summaries of letters, emails and phone calls dating from the past five years.

On July 31, the Washington County Board of Commissioners suspended the fire company because of its failed response rate of 26.3 percent. That rate reflects calls in which the fire company had a delayed response or did not respond at all.

The task force is developing recommendations to revive the Fairplay Fire Co. Monday’s meeting was the group’s fourth.

Among the correspondences read by Lewis were a 2007 letter saying Fairplay personnel cannot respond to medical calls without training and a 2008 letter imposing a temporary limitation on some medical response abilities. After a November 2008 membership shake-up, Lewis said he determined Fairplay should not be dispatched outside its first-due area and should receive support within its first-due area.

In January 2009, the division of emergency services asked Fairplay for documentation, including a roster and members’ active clearances, like those for hazardous materials. A July 2012 email requested a meeting with the fire chief and board of directors about operations and staffing concerns.

Some board members claimed they were not invited to the July meeting, but others said those people were lying.

“I thought we were starting a conversation, and that turned out to not be the case,” Fairplay Volunteer Fire Co. President Bill Pennington said of the meeting that preceded suspension.

Lewis said some remedies proposed prior to Fairplay’s suspension included county-based emergency medical services personnel being based at the station. He said they also talked about relocating an emergency medical crew from another company to the station or creating a new, satellite crew there.

Fire and emergency medical officials from other companies told the task force how they run meetings, sign up new members and share information with members. They provided statistics about how many people respond to calls.

Since Fairplay’s suspension, neighboring Sharpsburg Fire Co. has dedicated an overnight, two-person medical crew just to Fairplay-area calls, according to Sharpsburg’s assistant fire chief, James Morgan.

Sharpsburg has about 32 operational members and benefits greatly from company-level training opportunities in the winter, Morgan said. Board meeting minutes are posted in the watch room and are read aloud at the next board meeting, he said.

Fairplay officials said they have 24 people with various levels of firefighting certification and five who have not completed training.

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

The next meeting will be Monday at 7 p.m. at Rockland Woods Elementary School.

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