Meridian Star

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April 9, 2013

Kemper County VFD to close

MERIDIAN —     Members of the District 3 Volunteer Fire Department in Kemper County are expressing their displeasure with members of the Kemper County Board of Supervisors after the supervisors sent a letter out telling them the department would be closed down.

    In an April 4 letter to District 3 members, the supervisors during a March 18 meeting unanimously voted to immediately close the department located on Highway 495 due to, "structural uncertainty of the fire department." All fire department members were instructed to turn in all their equipment, including radios and turnout gear, to the county inventory clerk.

    Johnny Whitsett, president of the Kemper County Board of Supervisors, said Monday afternoon the reason for the closure is simply because the building is in bad shape.

    "Based on the recommendation from the supervisor in that area, John Paul Darnell, and the Kemper County Fire Coordinator, Ray Luke, we voted to close the department because of damage to the building," Whitsett said. "The Damascus Volunteer Fire Department is just four miles down the road so the area will have coverage."

    James Hurtt, a member of the District 3 station who helped organize a meeting Monday night of District 3 VFD members and the families that may be affected, said the building's condition is not the only reason for this closure. Hurtt said there has been a concerted effort on the part of Luke, Kemper County Emergency Management Agency Director Ben Dudley and others to close down the department for years.

    "This goes back to an altercation we had with the Damascus department several years ago," said Hurtt. "There have been attempts to shut us down.

    The meeting Monday night, said Hurtt, was to inform and educate are residents of what has been happening.

    "We will attempt to open a lot of eyes and shine a bright light on what has been happening," Hurtt said.

    Luke said the decision to shut down the department was nothing more than the issue of the building being in such sad shape.

    "It's in terrible shape," Luke said Monday afternoon. "The board ordered the closure and I can't do anything about that. I've tried to help District 3 any way I could."

    Luke admitted there has been some friction between the District 3 members and those from the Damascus station. He said at the beginning the two departments were one and the same but the board split up the departments after the members could not get along.

    Hurtt said it is vital the department stay in service because their area of responsibility is the largest in the county. Hurtt said Damascus could not cover the area by itself.

    "This isn't about politics, this is about providing an important service to the residents," Hurtt said.

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