Onley Vol. Fire Company should close, fire commission says

(Delmarvanow.com) -- The Accomack County Fire and Rescue Commission is recommending Onley Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company be dissolved.

The fire company has experienced problems over the past several years, including a treasurer who embezzled money from the company and a member who was convicted of arson, among other woes.

Onley’s new fire chief, Allen Nicholson, during a public comment period at Wednesday’s Accomack County Board of Supervisors meeting asked county supervisors to “please give me six months to show you I can turn this thing around.”

“I can turn that firehouse upside down,” he said.

He presented to the board petitions signed by residents asking that the Onley Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company be given a chance to remain active.

Still, the fire commission, which includes members from each of the county's volunteer fire and rescue companies, has made its final recommendation after studying the matter, its chairman told the board.

The commission is made up of one member from each volunteer fire and rescue station in the county, along with one member of the Board of Supervisors, one member-at-large, the Director of the Eastern Shore 911 Center, and the Accomack County Director of Public Safety.

Harry Thornton, fire commission chairman, told supervisors on Wednesday that a feasibility study committee created by the commission met with leaders of Onley Volunteer Fire and Rescue on June 9.

He handed out minutes from that meeting, which was attended by committee members Jeff Beall and Adam James — both of whom are fire chiefs at nearby stations — Jeff Flournoy, Eastern Shore 911 Communications Center Director, and Charles Pruitt, Accomack County Director of Public Safety.

Nicholson, Onley Deputy Chief and President Joshua Ruby, Treasurer Angel Nicholson and four other members were at the meeting.

Onley Volunteer Fire and Rescue has not provided fire suppression services to Accomack County since Feb. 3 and has not done any ambulance transport since March 16, according to the meeting minutes.

Nicholson told the committee the fire engine was out of service because of a licensing issue and the company’s ambulance had an engine problem.

He said both would be back in service within two weeks.

Questions were raised during the meeting about why the Onley company sold its newer ambulance and an engine and a brush truck, and about why they had not asked to borrow a fire engine or ambulance from another station while theirs were out of commission.

Nicholson said those decisions were made before he became a member of the fire company.

He said he had asked Melfa Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company to borrow an engine, but the request was denied because Melfa has only one.

He also told the committee Bloxom Volunteer Fire Company denied a similar request.

During the meeting, it was revealed that four Onley members live at the fire station.

Nicholson and Ruby would not say who the four are, according to the meeting minutes.

“Deputy Chief Ruby stated that (the) committee or county would have to get a court order to receive this information,” the minutes say.

Nicholson said the company is working with an accountant and an attorney to get back to a better financial position.

Nicholson and Ruby also told the committee “there have been questions about bills that were created by the past chief,” the minutes say.

Pruitt told them they should contact the Virginia State Police about investigating that; he also said he would inform the county attorney and the county administrator about it.

Pruitt said, based on data from the 911 Center, Onley is not at present “an integral part of the Fire and EMS service for Accomack County,” according to the minutes.

He recommended the fire company cease operations and that it not receive funding.

Pruitt also at the meeting gave Ruby a letter from Dr. Denise Harrison saying she no longer will serve Onley Volunteer Fire and Rescue as its Operational Medical Director, effective July 8.

The fire commission held a special meeting Tuesday, June 20, to discuss the committee’s findings after meeting with the Onley volunteers. The commission voted 12-3 to recommend the Board of Supervisors “begin the process of dissolving Onley Fire and Rescue,” Thornton said.

Supervisor Robert Crockett said the matter will be put on next month’s meeting agenda for action by the board.

“The chief will be notified and he can respond at that meeting,” Crockett said.

He also directed County Administrator Mike Mason to send a letter to the town of Onley advising the town of the steps the Board of Supervisors is taking as a result of the fire commission’s recommendation.

Delmarvanow.com


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