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Some Fairplay residents uneasy about losing town's fire company

January 30, 2013|By DAN DEARTH and CALEB CALHOUN | dan.dearth@herald-mail.com and caleb.calhoun@herald-mail.com

Barbara Shipe’s parents, Jacob and Elta Warrenfeltz, were among the founders of the Fairplay Volunteer Fire Co. in the 1940s.

She said she was saddened to see the organization come to such an unfortunate end Tuesday, when the Washington County Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 to no longer recognize or fund the fire company.

“It’s kind of heartbreaking, actually,” said Shipe, who lives in St. James Village about three miles from the firehouse. “The fire company is an important part of the community for safety.”

Shipe said it was no secret to anyone familiar with the situation that Fairplay’s response time had slipped over the last several years.

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As an example, Shipe said she got into a traffic accident on May 8 in Fairplay’s coverage area. The Funkstown Volunteer Fire Co. was the first to arrive on the scene, she said. Fairplay arrived with one truck and one firefighter about 15 minutes later.

Shipe said the town needs a fire company because they are otherwise at the mercy of firefighters in neighboring towns.

“We’re sort of in trouble,” she said. “We’re waiting for Boonsboro, Williamsport, Funkstown and Sharpsburg to respond.”

Fairplay resident Dwayne Lunsford said he lives about a mile from the town’s firehouse.

“When the leaves are off the trees, I can see the hill it’s on,” he said.

Lunsford said he believed that in addition to a fire department, Fairplay needs full time paramedics to respond to medical emergencies. EMS personnel are more essential, he said, because other fire companies have proven they can do an admirable job handling Fairplay’s fire calls.

“It would be nice to have someone in our area if we need them ... but if the other units can cover it better, if the response times have improved, all the more power to them,” he said.

Lunsford said it would have been nice if the County Commissioners cleaned house and gave the fire company another chance, but said he supported their decision to no longer recognize the organization
“I think it’s the only option they had,” Lunsford said. “I’d like to see our own fire department, but I can see why there was a need to shut it down.”

This company was suspended in July for failing to respond quickly enough or not responding at all to 26.3 percent of calls from Jan. 1 to May 31, 2012.

James Tracey, 55, who lives just outside of Fairplay on Fairplay Road, said that the decision does not bother him because he has always relied on the Sharpsburg Volunteer Fire Department although he lives within Fairplay’s coverage area and is closer to the Fairplay Volunteer Fire Co.

“Sharpsburg would always respond just as quickly or more quickly here,” he said. “If it hasn’t been working, a change is warranted.”

Of nine Fairplay-area residents who spoke with The Herald-Mail on Wednesday, five said they were against the commissioners’ decision, three said they supported it, and Doug Moyers, who worked as a firefighter for the company for more than 20 years through 2006 and was with the company’s Fire Police from 2008 to 2012, said he had mixed feelings.

Moyers said he did not want to see the fire company no longer recognized but blamed its leadership for what happened.

“I was hoping for something done where the leadership would be removed,” he said. “I know these leaders, and if it’s not going to be their way, then it’s not going to happen.”

Fairplay Volunteer Fire Co. had at least one officer at most of the task force meetings. Fairplay’s president, William Pennington Jr., and its fire chief, Leonard Heller, were task force members.

Other Fairplay residents who said they did not support the decision, however, said leadership was a problem.

Jack Brown, 59, said that finding a way to change the leadership could have solved the problem. “The leaders should be elected officials,” he said. “Don’t suspend it. I run the risk of my home burning to the ground now because we have no fire department.”

Chuck Dodson, 73, who also blamed the leadership, said that the county could have worked out a solution to keep the fire company in operation.

“Maybe somebody has to step forward and offer to fill this position of leadership,” he said. “Fairplay does need this fire department.”

James Warren, 45, of Spielman Road said that the commissioners’ decision was “scandalous.”

“Now there’s nothing nearby if there’s a fire,” he said.

The fire departments from Williamsport, Sharpsburg, Funkstown and Boonsboro will serve Fairplay, as they had been doing during the suspension period.

Those four fire companies have had a .8 percent failure rate in covering emergency calls in Fairplay’s district during Fairplay’s suspension, County Emergency Service Director Kevin Lewis said.

David Baker, of Boonsboro, said that he did not support the commissioners’ decision because it could affect what happens in the other towns outside of Fairplay.

“They could be focused on Fairplay somewhere and not there if something happens,” said Baker, 74. “When your house is on fire, you don’t want to think about where the fire company is going to come from.”

Ned Weirich, who lives outside of Funkstown, however, said that he is not worried about the decision.

“You have various fire companies in the area, and I think they’ll be able to handle it,” Weirich, 69, said. “When they decided to cut off the Fairplay Fire Co., it was with good reason.”

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