2011-03-26 / News

Fire report narrative called inaccurate, slanderous

By Charles Prince

MILLERSPORT – Tuesday night’s Walnut Township Trustees meeting turned into a oneon one match between Trustees Sonny Dupler and Terry Horn.

Trustee President Ralph Zollinger fell before the meeting and was taken to the hospital for treatment. It took 11 stitches to close a cut on his head.

Tuesday’s agenda included four items that Horn had wanted trustees to discuss at their March 8 meeting. Dupler successfully tabled them March 8 with Zollinger’s support. He claimed they had been added to the agenda too late.

“I’m probably going to cut you down,” Dupler warned Horn when they got to two items concerning the Thurston Walnut Township Fire Department.

The first concerned an accident that ended up with Thurston’s rescue truck in a ditch and a personal injury. “I didn’t get a report from the (fire) chief on the accident,” Horn said. “One does not exist now,” Thurston Fiscal Officer Aaron Reedy responded.

Horn added that after asking for more information from Thurston Walnut Township Chief Jim Hite, he got just one sentence.

“I want to know about this in a matter of hours,” Horn added. “There’s got to be a method where everybody’s informed.” Dupler said he knew about it the night it happened but didn’t pass the information on to Horn.

“We need to improve that communication,” Horn said.

Dupler tried to stop discussion before it even started on the next item. “This is strictly a fireman’s issue,” he said. “We don’t have anything in it. I don’t think it is an issue for here.”

His comments didn’t dissuade Millersport Assistant Chief Bobby Price. He is also a captain with the Columbus Division of Fire. The issue was a January 8 residential structure fire on Musser Road.

“I have an issue with the fire report,” Price said. “Your fire chief (Thurston Walnut Township Chief Jim Hite) wasn’t even at the scene of the fire two weeks after it happened.”

Price, one of three firefighters that narrowly escaped serious or possibly fatal injury during the fire, was particularly upset about two undated letters – one from Hite and the other from Thurston Lt. Jason Majoros who had initial command at the scene – that have been become part of the report.

“Jim Hite should have written four words – ‘I was not there,’” Price said. The narratives are inaccurate and slanderous, he added. “You now have the knowledge that it is a false report.”

Price said the fire was approached as a training issue for all four departments involved – Thurston Walnut Township, Millersport, Basil Joint Fire District and Pleasant Township. He added that a critique session involving the four departments went very well, leading to an effort to involve all northern Fairfield County departments in joint training and cooperative efforts.

The letters destroyed the good feelings that came out of the critique, Price said. He added that neither he nor Pleasant Township Fire Chief Jeff Mathias were asked by Hite for reports. Price took over scene command after being temporarily trapped on the second floor without water after a flashover on the first floor.

“Bobby Price went out of his way to make that a fair critique,” Horn said.

“This sounds like this was one cluster,” Dupler said. “I’m not going to stand for beating up Chief Hite.”

“This report doesn’t speak well of our fire chief,” Horn said. He asked Thurston Mayor Mary Boring who was present whether she had read Hite’s report. She had not.

“I don’t tell the fire department how to run,” Dupler said. “I don’t tell any department how to operate.”

Price asked that the two letters be removed from the report. He was told that was now impossible – it is part of the public record.

“Somehow it has to be addressed,” Price concluded.

Earlier Horn went over the list of information he believes trustees should have as a 50 percent owner of the Thurston Walnut Township Fire Department. He sparred with Dupler, Reedy and Boring on some issues.

Horn’s list of documents includes:

• Original contract with the Village of Thurston;

• Property insurance policies;

• Liability insurance including the extent of that coverage;

• Equipment titles;

• Firefighter certifications;

• 2011 budget and a five year budget plan; and

• Standards and policies.

Reedy asked several times if Millersport was providing the same information. In most cases, Horn said the answer was “yes,” but he pointed out that many of these items were covered by the contract with Millersport.

“We are a lot more involved in the village township fire department,” Horn explained. “We have responsibility as part of our ownership.”

He also wanted to know if Hite was bonded or whether it was even required. Reedy said he didn’t know.

Some of these issues will be discussed when trustees attend Thurston Village Council’s Safety Committee meeting at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, April 6. Trustees had planned to attend the committee’s March meeting but that meeting was cancelled.

Earlier Assistant Fire Chief Jamie Carroll said the department was spending $21,000 to $22,500 to replace a 1987 vintage breathing air compressor and fill station for the tanks firefighters use inside a burning structure. Horn expressed some concern about spending that much money before the village and trustees can discuss the big picture at the department. “Right now it is a safety issue,” Carroll said and Horn dropped it. Horn also tried to reconcile township charges to Thurston for snow plowing.

“ I’m trying to figure out what’s right,” he explained. “I want to make it fair.” He ques- tioned reports that Thurston was only plowed eight times this winter when timecards showed township roads were plowed or treated on 32 days. Dupler said Thurston roads are typically done last and often an early morning snow requiring township treatment has melted before they get to Thurston. He added that drifting snow in the open township can require repeat plowing while Thurston isn’t affected. Horn expressed disappointment that better records weren’t kept including how much salt was used in Thurston.

The agreement with Thurston is for the township to do it at cost. The township is charging $200 per trip or a total of $1,600. Horn’s calculations came out to around $173 per trip or $106 when Dupler is driving the truck. His questions about the possible overcharges weren’t answered. Boring seemed more concerned that his calculations could increase costs for the village.

There were a few areas of agreement Tuesday night. Dupler and Horn interviewed David Farrell of Fairfield Beach before the meeting for the vacant position of alternate on the Board of Zoning Appeals. Both agreed that he would be a good addition and appointed him to the board.

Dupler also agreed with Horn’s proposal that the township explore the costs and requirements to remove an abandoned house at 8881 Lancaster-Thornville Road in New Salem, preferably by burning it down for firefighter training. “The property is in limbo,” Horn said. The owner died in 2003 and now some $10,000 is owed in back taxes. But that’s not enough to put it on the fast track for foreclosure, Horn said. “It is going to be sitting there for a long time.”

Horn invited neighbor Paul Kinser to provide a local perspective. Kinser lived next door to the home for 40 years and now his sister does. The home is open and harboring animals, he said. The roof is falling in and the basement is full of water. “It is a safety issue,” Kinser said. “We would like to see it cleaned up.”

On another New Salem issue, Park Commissioner and township road worker Tim Morris said complaints that juveniles were using drugs in the old pit toilets at New Salem Park didn’t appear to be true. However, he suggested that the toilets be boarded up and trustees agreed. Kinser said the old toilets were not conveniently located and that the portable toilet was sufficient.

Dupler and Horn also agreed with road supervisor Randy Kemmerer that the soon-to-be started Phase 2 of the Cherry Lane rehabilitation project continue to exclude replacement of a six-inch tile drainage line that runs parallel with part of the road being rebuilt. Replacement of the tile line was part of the original specifications. Trustees rejected those bids when they came in far above estimates. Tile replacement was listed as an option on the rebid with the low bidder quoting $28,000 to replace the tile. Kemmerer has been resisting efforts by the county engineer’s office to include tile replacement. The township has repaired three blow holes in the tile caused by the installation of a phone cable that has since been abandoned. “We don’t have the $28,000,” Kemmerer said. “We don’t even know what it drains.”

“JB (deputy county engineer Jeff Baird P.E.) is a bit like Terry (Horn),” Dupler said. “If he doesn’t get his own way he keeps hammering at it.” Horn confirmed with Kemmerer that the tile could be replaced at a later date if that proved necessary. Work is scheduled to start April 18 and should be completed in 11 weeks if weather cooperates.

Dupler and Horn also approved spending up to another $5,000 with attorney Steven Davis of Crabbe, Brown & James to defend the township in the suit filed by Ron and Irene DiPaolo’s Cherry Lane Development, LLC to enjoin the township from issuing a certificate of zoning clearance to the Mocks for their Walnut C&DD landfill just west of Ohio 37.

That case is now back before Judge Richard Berens in Fairfield County. The Mocks had appealed to the Fifth Appellate District Berens’ April 26, 2010, entry enjoining Walnut Township, its Zoning commission, Board of Trustees, and the zoning inspector from “issuing a certificate of zoning clearance” to the Mocks. That clearance is required before they are allowed to proceed with construction of the 34.8-acre construction and demolition debris landfill. The certificate is only remaining obstacle to construction. The Fairfield Health Department issued a 2009 license for the facility in December 2008 that has been renewed annually.

The appellate court dismissed the appeal for “lack of jurisdiction,” stating that the trial court has not disposed of all of the claims. …“the decision is interlocutory in nature, is not immediately appealable, and can be revised by the trial court at any time prior to the final determination of the entire action.”

The township’s legal fees in this matter are now not to exceed $40,000.

Public comments were brief Tuesday night, likely due to the two and a half hours of discussion that proceeded them. Floyd Duncan of Fairfield Beach said more warning signs are needed around the park to get drivers to slowdown. Kemmerer will add a 25 mph speed limit sign on the southbound side of the road by the park.

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