By C.V. Moore
The Smithers Volunteer Fire Department reopened Tuesday afternoon after being shut down for over two weeks due to its failure to keep up with liability and vehicle insurance payments.
Fayette County Emergency Services received notification of insurance coverage Tuesday, and shortly afterward, the state fire marshal’s office did a cursory inspection of the department to make sure that all equipment is still in working order.
State Fire Marshal Sterling Lewis says the inspection went very well, but the department still has some hurdles to clear before it is in full compliance with the state.
“They are still deficient and in noncompliance with some of their training, but they are still in their plan of correction period to get back up to the point where they are compliant,” he says.
Fayette County Fire Coordinator Steve Cruikshank says the department has been given a list of things members need to do to regain standing, with target dates.
The fire marshal’s office supplied a list of its own back in February. Two of the five major deficiencies have been corrected and the remainder relate to training for officers and firefighters.
“We are aware that the Fayette County and Kanawha County fire coordinators are working with them to try to get them into the classes and/or apply for equivalency,” said Lewis.
In a “plan of action” submitted to the fire marshal’s office by VFD Chief Tim Whittington in early March, he stated the training would be complete within six months.
The VFD also now has a board of directors, which consists entirely of firefighters and includes a treasurer and a compliance officer.
Cruikshank says they are working to redo the organization’s bylaws to require that at least three members of the board are private citizens, to ensure there is some public oversight of the organization.
Both the state and the Kanawha County Commission have withdrawn funding from the department.
There is some question as to whether Whittington’s hiring was done on sound footing, since the VFD did not have a charter or board of directors at the time.
The VFD is a stand-alone corporation, separate from the Town of Smithers, but its operation affects the citizens of the town in serious ways.
Smithers Mayor Tom Skaggs says he and the town council want to give the department a chance to right wrongs before stepping in with any action.
“We are taking a wait-and-see stance right now and giving them a chance to get things straightened out,” said Skaggs. “They are making strides in trying to get everything into compliance.”