Cumberland Times-News

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June 12, 2013

McCoole Volunteer Fire Department under scrutiny

MCCOOLE — With the McCoole Volunteer Fire Department being retained Wednesday morning by the bank after it failed to sell at public auction, an afternoon phone call to Allegany County State’s Attorney Michael Twigg revealed that an investigation has been under way in the alleged mismanagement of the fire company’s assets that led to the demise of the department.

An announcement was made in April by Dick DeVore, director of the department of emergency services for Allegany County, that calls would no longer be dispatched to the financially strapped fire department.

At the end, the McCoole Volunteer Fire Department — which was set up as an independent corporation, according to DeVore— had only one fire truck, nearly $1 million in debt and the station in foreclosure.

Many locals have expressed shock and disgust as they watch their once solvent community fire station being slowly dismantled.

“The failure of the sale gives us hope,” said William Ambrose, a 17-year fire department member, whose father helped to start the company in 1938.

With an opening bid of $350,000, no one stepped forward to bid on the station forcing the Marquette Bank of Cook County, Ill., to retain it.

“We would like to salvage that building. Without the fire station, we have nothing,” said Ambrose.

Many locals have been upset over what they see as the mismanagement of the fire company’s assets under the administration of former Fire Chief Charles Pearce Jr.

“I can tell you that there is an investigation going on,” said Twigg.

“Sam Lane (the assistant state’s attorney) has been working on the matter,” said Twigg.

Pearce, who was paid a salary in his role as the administrator of the fire company, entered into a lease agreement to have the fire department lease the Hamburger Haven restaurant, of which he is the resident agent.

The fire department paid $3,800 a month from 2004 to 2010 to the Hamburger Haven, according to public records.

The lease deal was apparently an effort to raise funds for the fire station.

In a public meeting on June 5, citizens asked how Pearce was able to sell off fire company equipment. Some asked where the profits from such sales went.

“Nobody ever knew how much money we had. He (Pearce) would never tell anyone,” said Ambrose.

Ambrose said to his knowledge audits were never conducted.

“I hope the truth comes out. To see it go by the wayside digs at your soul,” said Ambrose.

Greg Larry can be contacted at glarry@times-news.com.

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