Tense meetings wrap up with Fairplay Task Force recommendations

January 14, 2013|By DAVE McMILLION |
  • Fairplay Task Force Chairman Paul Miller, center, addresses the task force Monday at Rockland Woods Elementary. At left is Jeb Eckstine, co-chairman, and Charlie Summers, deputy director of the Washington County Department of Emergency Services, is at right.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

The work of a task force examining the suspended Fairplay Fire Co. ended Monday night with much of the strain and ill feelings that was apparent in many of the other meetings.

The task force worked on its final report and recommendations, which concluded in part that the fire company has not adequately researched solutions and had not fully addressed its situation, and as a result department administration change is needed. The report and recommendations will be sent to the Washington County Board of Commissioners for consideration.

Task force chairman Paul Miller said during the meeting at Rockland Woods Elementary School that he asked Fairplay Fire Co. President Bill Pennington if he wanted to add anything else to the task force’s final recommendations before Monday’s meeting.

Miller said he received a written statement that was not signed by anyone and was not on official letterhead.

Miller said he was told it was from Pennington.

The letter described the months of work by the task force as “hostile and contentious” and said the task force appeared more interested in “dismantling Company 12 rather than returning it to service.”

The letter said Fairplay Fire Co. worked hard on a comprehensive plan to address the department’s problems but the task force dismissed it “as if it was swatting a fly.”

“We’ve been treated by members of the task force with disdain,” the letter states.

Two representatives from the department declined to comment in detail after the meeting.

When asked if he had any reaction to the recommendations, Fairplay Fire Co. Treasurer Dave Grabill said the department invited The Herald-Mail Co. out to the department to get the company’s side of the story.

The paper instead encouraged the fire department to write a letter to the editor.

“I’m not interested in talking to the paper. I don’t think you all handled it very well,” Grabill said.

Fairplay Fire Co. Chief Leonard Heller declined to comment. During the meeting, Heller said final report’s conclusion that the department had 10 fully certified personnel was not accurate.

The Washington County Board of Commissioners voted in July to suspend Fairplay Volunteer Fire Co. indefinitely for not responding quickly to enough to all of its calls. Officials said the fire department had a “failed response” — it either didn’t respond within 10 minutes or didn’t respond at all — for 26.3 percent of its calls from Jan. 1 to May 31, 2012.

The task force was asked to come up with possible solutions for getting the department running again, efficiently.

Still contained in the recommendations is that there needs to be changes in the department’s administration. The task force had earlier talked about an officers’ election at the department, but Miller said it will be up to the commissioners on how to call for a new administration if they support that.

“It has been an ongoing concern that the problems associated with Company 12 are in part related to the inability and ineffectiveness of the current leaders of Company 12, specifically Mr. Pennington and Chief Heller,” the task force’s final report and recommendations states.

Other highlights of the report and recommendations include that:

• 80 percent of calls now for fire companies are medical or rescue in nature, meaning the original purpose of volunteer fire companies has changed. Fairplay officials said early in the process that they were not interested in emergency medical calls, Miller said.

• Fairplay’s comprehensive plan talks about financial reports on the company, but the department has “elected to omit certain information that if included might influence the reader’s conclusion about the organization’s assets, liabilities, net assets, revenues and expenses.”

• An inspection of the fire department showed some equipment and procedures were not up to current standards. Self-contained breathing apparatus for firefighters had no record of ever being tested, which presented a “life safety” issue for volunteers.

The task force also recommended that 78 applications for volunteer service at the department be accepted for membership. Officials at the last task force meeting said the 78 people wanted to be on the department but only if there is a change in the department’s administration. The task force is recommending that the 78 people not be removed from the department for a period of two years.

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