Commissioners made the right call with Fairplay fire company

February 03, 2013

Lawyers are paid to say such things, but even so it is hard to swallow Fairplay Fire Co. attorney Ed Kuczynski’s assertion that his embattled client has failed to receive due process. Fairplay had a response-failure rate of 26.3 percent. This could have been grounds, not for a lengthy inquiry, but for a summary judgment against the department, and a hasty change in management and practices.

But the Washington County Commissioners chose a more conservative route, appointing a task force that spent months investigating what went wrong before recommending that the department receive a top-to-bottom overhaul, including the dismissal of its current leadership.

Perhaps thinking that the county would never take a hard stand against a volunteer fire company, Fairplay balked at the reforms.

Fairplay’s defiance was understandable. For decades, this county has avoided taking serious steps to improve a fire-and-rescue system lacking in accountability.

But the commissioners did indeed take a hard stand this time, and Tuesday voted to pull all county funding from Fairplay and to maintain a policy of dispatching emergency calls in the community area to neighboring departments.

We believe this was the proper course, and we salute the commissioners for demonstrating the courage to take decisive, necessary action.

While the decision makes sense as far as the current leadership is concerned, one drawback is that it would also seem to punish with the same rod the dedicated volunteers who want to serve the Fairplay community.

The commissioners did the best they could with the tools they had on hand. The commissioners do not have the power to remove the leadership of a private fire company. And no doubt, pulling the funding plug was about the only way for the commissioners to let Fairplay know they were serious.

Despite the best attempts of the old guard to obfuscate the central issue and throw up red herrings, one card trumps all others: Fairplay was failing one time in four. In fact, response times have been significantly better since Fairplay was suspended and its calls farmed out to neighboring departments. That is a cold, hard fact that is impervious to accusations of “witch hunts.”

We believe the evidence against the current Fairplay leadership was compelling, and that the task force did its best to get to the bottom of the matter in a fair but no-nonsense way. This was long, thankless work that was of tremendous value to the county.

We do give the current leadership some credit for participating in the process and suggesting potential solutions of its own. No matter who is right, too much water has passed under the bridge for hard feelings to be repaired. And a fire department is no place for division.

Insofar as it went, the commissioners’ decision was correct; Fairplay as presently constructed cannot be trusted to protect the community.

Ultimately, we hope the current leaders realize as much and turn the keys of the operation over to those who can successfully serve Fairplay.

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