WHARNCLIFFE – The Wharncliffe Volunteer Fire Department, Mingo County Commission, Mingo County Fire Chief’s Association and Mingo County Emergency services have agreed to work together to formulate an action plan to present to the State Fire Commission that would allow the fire department to continue to provide service to Wharncliffe residents.
The issue was discussed in depth at a special meeting of the Mingo County Commission (MCC) held on Monday, August 22. The Wharncliffe Volunteer Fire Department had recently been notified by the State Fire Marshal that the department would be closed.
Lorene Vance, Mingo County 911 Director, explained the situation to commissioners stating, “I was contacted a couple of weeks ago. The Fire Chief there, Candace Chaffins, had voluntarily shut down the Wharncliffe Fire Department. Then, I received an email from the State Fire Marshal’s Office stating that she had decided not to close the fire department and that she had written the letter while under distress from the meeting the night before.”
Vance explained that the fire department was originally told by the Fire Marshal’s Office that they had 180 days to correct existing problems within their department. Vance stated, “They said they had 180 get air packs certified and they were in the process of doing that. I get a call on Friday from Bradley Scott with the State Fire Marshal’s Office saying that they had closed the WVFD. The state had a meeting in Snowshoe and they had decided to close it until they got everything in order. He said they would review them again in October and they have until December to get everything certified…”
Commissioner Greg “Hootie” Smith requested that the Fire Chief’s Association and Emergency Services meet with the WVFD and work together to find a solution to enable the department to continue services for Wharncliffe residents.
The discussion continued. John Hall, President of the Mingo County Fire Chief’s Association (MCFCA) was also present at the meeting. Hall explained the MCFCA would be willing to assist but requested that in the future, the WVFD be more active in the MCFCA and regularly attend monthly MCFCA meetings. Hall stated, “Yes, we can go over there and help them. I am not too proud to ask for help and they shouldn’t be too proud to ask for help either… They have a lot of work to do…It is up to them if they want to stay in existence because in October, if they don’t show any progress, I have seen it across the state, they will come in and shut you down.
Several board members of the WVFD attended the meeting. One WVFD board member explained that many board members are new and have inherited many of the problems that exist in the WVFD. The board member stated, “We have been trying to do everything they asked us to do. In May, they gave us 180 days and that 180 is not up yet…This is a new board, new people and we have inherited this. We are diligent and trying so hard for our community to keep this thing together. We implore you, anything that you can do to help us…”
The discussion with WVFD board members and the commission continued. Board members explained that the Wharncliffe Fire Chief was pressured into writing the letter opting to close the department. Members also presented a letter from the State Fire Marshall sent on June 3rd that stated that the fire department had 180 days to correct deficiencies within the department. The letter listed items that the department needed to address and correct. Board members explained that they had been working on completing the required list.
Board members also explained the necessity of the WVFD stating that both the Beech Creek and Baisden Volunteer Fire Departments were located too far away to provide adequate service for Wharncliffe residents.
Following further discussion Smith stated, “I think that what we need to do is use our team that we have in place here that have the knowledge…I think that we need to take steps with our MCFCA with these individuals. I understand that leadership in the past should have been taking benefit of the association and all that you guys have offered. I know these individuals will be glad to participate… We have to pull together guys and get through this.”
Commission President, John Mark Hubbard recommended that the commission pen a letter to the State Fire Commission requesting that the 180 days be reinstated to the WVFD. Hubbard stated, “You have been through it and other departments in the county have been through this. I want to recommend that we as the commission write a letter to the State Fire Commission and ask him to reconsider because it has just been brought to our attention as the commission. They were given 180 days to rectify the problem… Why should they not be granted their 180 days?”
Commissioner Smith agreed stating, “One thing that I think that we need to do is we need to have a meeting and allow this new board to meet with our MCFCA and I think that in this letter that we submit to them, we ought to show them that this has been accomplished and here is our plan. We have met with our MCFCA and they have provided us with these recommendations, we are going to follow these recommendations and these are our plans. Then ask to reinstate our 180 days probation period.”
The discussion concluded with the commission approving a motion for Mingo County Emergency Services and the MCFA offer guidance to the WVFD to formulate an action plan to present in a letter to the fire commission requesting that the 180 day probation period be reinstated to the fire department.
(Courtney Harrison is a news reporter for the Williamson Daily News. She can be contacted at [email protected] or at 304-235-4242 ext. 2279.)