Cumberland Times-News

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December 5, 2013

Another Allegany County volunteer fire department is facing difficulties

CUMBERLAND — Another Allegany County volunteer fire department is facing difficulties.

The county’s Emergency Services Board is in a series of meetings with the Clarysville Volunteer Fire Company to review the situation. The board has a meeting with department members next week to follow up on previous meetings, said Dick DeVore, the county’s emergency services chief.

DeVore said the board does not yet have a clear picture of the issues involved, but they include the number of members in the department and the number of trained members available for calls. DeVore said the board is not yet sure if the problems involve debt issues. “I don’t believe it’s a debt issue,” DeVore said Thursday.

“The specifics are still uncertain. ... The board needs a clearer picture, ” DeVore said.

Eric L. Clark, chief of the Clarysville Volunteer Fire Company who also served as manager of the company’s bar operation, was indicted in July on four charges relating to alleged misuse of fire company funds relating to the bar operation, according to the Allegany County State’s Attorney’s Office.

Clark, 42, was charged with two counts each of theft scheme: $10,000 to under $100,000 and embezzlement/misappropriate. The charges relate to alleged offenses that occurred from January 2011 through October 2012, according to court documents.

Clark is scheduled to appear in court Dec. 18.

Clarysville joins the ranks of troubled departments in the county, including Baltimore Pike and McCoole. McCoole’s department is no longer in service, but Baltimore Pike is recovering after financial difficulties, including charges against longtime members of the department.

The county has been looking into a way to provide better financial accountability practices for volunteer fire and rescue companies. A better system would protect those services by bolstering public confidence that donated monies are being used for fire and rescue operations. A county-funded study of financial accountability in the volunteer departments will provide recommendations to guard against bad practices that led to the floundering of two volunteer departments over the past few years. A request for proposals for the study is already being developed with county commission approval.

DeVore has said he has “high confidence” in most of the volunteer departments. The departments are behind the study and push to develop better financial practices, DeVore has said.

Commissioner Creade Brodie Jr. has pointed out that the volunteer departments are independent organizations not under the control of the county. DeVore said some departments already have formal audits, but most can’t afford to have audits prepared.

Both the Baltimore Pike and McCoole volunteer fire departments ran into serious financial troubles over the past two years. At the Baltimore Pike department, embezzlement by two then-members of the department caused financial problems for that organization.

The McCoole department was set up as an independent corporation and ended up more than $1 million in debt and the station in foreclosure. The cause of the department’s collapse remains under investigation by authorities. The McCoole department was essentially closed down by the county Department of Emergency Services in April.

 The cost of the study won’t be known until the county receives the proposals. The volunteer departments will not be asked to contribute to the costs of the study, county officials said. The county will attempt to use pre-existing funding for the study.

 Matthew Bieniek can be contacted at mbieniek@times-news.com.

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