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Many feel Fairplay Fire Co. should have been given another chance

January 30, 2013|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com

Washington County Emergency Service Director Kevin Lewis said he was “somewhat surprised,” but not totally shocked by the County Commissioners decision Tuesday to no longer recognize the Fairplay Volunteer Fire Co.

Dale Hill, president of the Washington County Volunteer Fire & Rescue Association, said he was concerned the commissioners “totally disregarded” recommendations from a task force the commissioners put in place last summer to work on a plan to re-establish the Fairplay fire company.

William Pennington Jr., Fairplay Volunteer Fire’s president, and Leonard Heller, Fairplay’s fire chief, did not return messages for comment on Wednesday.

Stacey Taylor, who had been a sergeant with the Fairplay company since 2008, said personnel had been working to do what the company was asked to do in order to have the company returned to service.

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“I think they should’ve given us another opportunity” because the company has abided by “everything they asked us to do,” said Taylor, 29, who lives on Fairplay Road. “We had stuff that we needed to do, and we proved to them that we could do it.”

On Tuesday, the commissioners voted 4-1 to no longer recognize Fairplay Volunteer Fire Co. and to no longer provide funding or in-kind services to the company.

Fire companies from Sharpsburg, Boonsboro, Williamsport and Funkstown will continue to serve as first-responders in covering emergency calls in the Fairplay district as they have done during Fairplay’s suspension.

The commissioners on July 31 suspended the Fairplay company and county funding because the company had a high “failed response” rate for emergency calls.

A task force was formed to devise a plan with a course of action so the fire company could be reinstated.

“The commissioners can do what they want. We did our job on the task force, and then it’s up to the commissioners,” said Paul Miller, who chaired the task force.

“The commissioners did what they felt they had to do and it is what it is right now,” Miller said.

While the county volunteer fire and rescue association hadn’t met since the commissioners’ decision, Hill said, “People I talked to on behalf of the association, I don’t think the member companies were happy with the decision.”

“My concern is that the commissioners totally disregarded any recommendations from the task force,” Hill said.

Funkstown Volunteer Fire Co.’s board members voted unanimously Tuesday night to recommend that the County Commissioners reopen Fairplay fire company as soon as possible, said Hill, who also is Funkstown fire company’s president.

The task force was to find ways to get Fairplay back up and providing service to the community, Hill said. The four fire companies “were being stressed” by covering Fairplay’s first-response area in addition to their own, Hill said.

“Decreasing fire protection to a community is never a good thing and that’s what they’ve done,” Hill said.

State Sen. Christopher Shank, R-Washington, said the commissioners have to provide for efficient and safe operations for fire services in the county.

“This is a county issue, it impacts public safety, so I’m obviously keenly interested because it is my district, but it is a county issue,” Shank said.

“They had a process they followed, they had the task force, the task force did their due diligence and this is the recommendation the county commissioners came up with … obviously it was a difficult decision but that’s their decision to make,” Shank said. “Looking at that process and what I know about it, I support their decision as unfortunate as it is.”

Shank said he hopes that moving forward, there will be a plan that will resolve some of the issues.

Del. Neil Parrot, R-Washington, said, “I would like to see the county and Fairplay work together so that they can open up as soon as possible.”

“Any time we don’t have volunteers serving, it is going to cost the county,” Parrott said.

One of the task force’s recommendations was that the company’s administration be replaced.

Taylor said that should not have been an issue.

“What does leadership matter in a fire department?” he said. “Don’t take everything out on the firefighters. We all joined to help our community and do what we can.”

Miller said he didn’t know whether Fairplay Volunteer Fire Co. officials were for or against each of the individual recommendations made by the task force.

Miller said Pennington and Heller, who were members of the task force, voted no on the final recommendations, “on the final report as a whole.”

Staff writers Kaustuv Basu and Caleb Calhoun contributed to this story.

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