WCVFRA Approves Fairplay for Reinstatement
FAIRPLAY — A new day has dawned for fire service in Fairplay.
The once-embattled fire company cleared a major hurdle Thursday night, earning reinstatement to the Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association by a unanimous vote, association President Jim Sprecher Jr. said Friday.
"They're making great strides to reopen that organization and provide fire and EMS service to that community again," Sprecher said in a telephone interview.
The next step in the process of returning to service will be to earn reinstatement from the Washington County Board of Commissioners, which could come sometime in the next 30 days, according to County Administrator Gregory B. Murray.
"We're a step closer, and we're excited in anticipation of being able to present this to the board of county commissioners," interim Fire Chief Mark Kopp said.
Murray said officials with the association, the county Division of Emergency Services and the company's receiver, attorney Bryon Black, will meet soon to work out a reinstatement plan to include benchmarks and oversight before making a determination on how best to proceed.
A probationary period also would likely be part of that plan, county Emergency Services Director R. David Hays said.
"Within 30 days, hopefully, we'll be able to have that discussion, and I'm sure it will be very positive," Murray said.
Hays said that Fairplay would need to receive reinstatement by the county before the company can again be authorized to respond to calls, but Thursday's vote was a step in the right direction.
"This really was a collective effort," he said. "It was certainly led by the group in Fairplay, but fostered also by the association, the community and the county commissioners."
Kopp said he hopes to see the company back up and running fire calls by early November.
Thanks to great community interest, company membership has increased to roughly 200, including about 60 certified first responders ready to respond to calls.
"And applications are still coming in," said Black, a Frederick, Md. attorney appointed by the court to oversee the company's return to service.
Joining Kopp as interim line officers are Deputy Chief Robert Asper, Capt. Cory Lescalleet and Lt. Robert Gordon.
Administrative officers have yet to be elected, but the company has approved new bylaws at a special meeting this week.
In an effort to change its public image, the company's new leadership has decided to use Fairplay's corporate title, Community Volunteer Fire Co. of District 12, rather than its geographical moniker as its formal name.
Fairplay was suspended in 2012 for a high rate of late or missed calls, and the county commissioners voted to withdraw recognition a year later.
The company has not run fire or emergency medical calls since 2012.
Among the recommendations made by a county task force assigned to come up with a reinstatement plan was that the company's past leadership be replaced.
Former President Bill Pennington and former Chief Leonard Heller said earlier this year they would not seek re-election, and two other officers submitted their resignations in the spring.
Sprecher, then-second vice president of the association, was a member of the county task force. He said it is good to see service being returned to the rural community south of Hagerstown.
"Coming from a very, very long line of volunteers in my family, I can remember as a kid going to the Fairplay carnival many, many times," Sprecher said. "To be president when they come back in, (it's) just a great accomplishment across the board for their organization, their citizens group, the association and (the county)."
Echoing county officials, Sprecher credited the efforts of the four neighboring companies — Boonsboro, Funkstown, Sharpsburg and Williamsport — for helping to bridge the coverage gap during Fairplay's downtime.
"Those organizations ... really toed the line to step up to carry the load to protect our county citizens down there," he said. "They're still going to be on dual dispatch for a period of time until we’re assured that Fairplay is up and running smoothly."