MCCOOLE — About 60 concerned citizens attended a public meeting last week with county officials to get details behind the decision to close the McCoole Volunteer Fire Department that was announced in April.
While officials assured the public that prompt and reliable service will be provided by volunteer companies from Rawlings, Keyser (W.Va.) and Potomac in Westernport, many citizens were left scratching their heads as to how their once solvent community fire station ended up nearly $1 million in debt and the building in foreclosure.
The McCoole fire house is set to be auctioned off Wednesday.
The meeting, held at the Cornerstone Church, was hosted by Dick DeVore, director of the Department of Emergency Services for Allegany County.
“This was a difficult decision for the board. We will be viewing it as McCoole has ceased operation,” said DeVore.
After a long, steady demise in the assets of the McCoole fire station, the company had one fire truck and four members left at the end.
Because McCoole was set up as an independent corporation, the county cannot actually dissolve the department, but will no longer dispatch calls to the company, according to DeVore.
Many people expressed frustration with what they feel was mismanagement of fire company assets that occurred under the administration of Fire Chief Charles Pearce.
“They never had a meeting in over a year. What gives Chuckie Pearce the right to sell fire equipment? We always had to make a motion,” said one citizen.
Where the proceeds from equipment sales went was also questioned.
Another citizen said that many members worked for decades building a fire company that had no outstanding bills and $120,000 in the bank in the late 1990s only to end up financially insolvent.
Someone else questioned the wisdom of paying the fire chief a salary.
“Other companies didn’t have a paid administrator. Why did we have one?” asked another man.
DeVore answered the questions with information he had available, but ultimately recognized the frustration of the citizens.
“I understand the trust issue. I wish I could snap my fingers and make the last several years disappear for you folks. But I can’t do it,” said DeVore.
The fire company paid $3,800 in monthly rent to Hamburger Haven Inc., according to public lease records from 2004 to 2010, to operate the restaurant in an attempt to raise funds for the fire company.
Bingo, which was a large revenue stream for McCoole in the early 2000s, dwindled over the years as well.
Also present were fire chiefs Wes Foor and Tim Dayton of the Rawlings and Potomac fire companies, respectively, and some of their membership. Bill Kight, president of Potomac, was also present.
Each of the men asked for cooperation while urging any McCoole firefighters still interested to join with one of the other companies that supports the McCoole fire district.
A proposal has been made that will allow McCoole to be considered for a substation sometime in the future.
County Commissioner Bill Valentine and commission president Mike McKay were present; however, they did not speak at the event.
Greg Larry can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.