Chesapeake fire chief resigns

Published 6:31 pm Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Ban on firearms for department at center of dispute

CHESAPEAKE — The chief of the Chesapeake-Union Volunteer Fire Department announced his resignation at Monday’s meeting of Chesapeake’s village council.

Frank Meehling II presented his written statement to Mayor Tommy Templeton and members of council, following the enactment of a ban on firearms for members of the fire department.

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Meehling said the department, which is equipped with the anti-opioid drug Narcan to go to overdose calls, needed to carry arms for safety.

The council agreed to the ban at a special meeting of council in July, as a condition of an agreement with their insurance provider, rather than pay an additional $2,500 to allow firearms to be carried by the department.

“We can’t afford it,” council member Paul Penix said. “If you get in trouble, we are liable.”

Meehling was joined in his concern at the meeting by assistant chief Joey McMaster, as well as their wives, who expressed concern for fire crews on calls, particularly in drug-related cases and at night.

“I’ve seen him drive personally to a wreck and he’s the first one there,” Kelly Meehling said of calls after midnight. “The only peace of mind I have is that he has a gun on his hip.”

Some council members suggested that fire crews not show up to overdose calls and leave these to county EMS.

“How are we going to justify it if we didn’t respond?” Meehling said, citing delays that could occur if crews waited for county services to arrive. “If we did not go because we didn’t think the scene was safe?”

McMaster also pointed out that EMS can not remove a person from a wreck until the fire department declares the scene safe.

The mayor and council reiterated that they were not opposed to the idea of fire crews having arms, but that the decision was strictly a financial one due to liability costs. They said the Union

Township trustees were also unwilling to pay the cost.

Meehling said all crew members were required to have conceal carry permits and get the required training.

To illustrate potential liability issues, council Member Kenny Wolfe pointed out an incident from recent years, in which a former police officer had accidentally discharged a gun while cleaning it at the fire station, striking McMaster in the foot.

After several minutes of discussion, council member Danny Burd suggested the council table the matter “until we can work this out.”

However, Templeton said this was not an option, as the ban was already in effect.

The mayor then tried to end the heated discussion, at one point telling Meehling to “back off” and that his “tone of voice” was out of hand.

Meehling then presented his resignation letter to council member Kenny Wolfe, who serves as mayor pro tempore, and asked him to read it aloud.

However, other council members said this was not possible, due to procedure and that Wolfe only has pro tempore duties when Templeton is not present.

Meehling then handed the letter to Templeton, who read it silently and then asked it to be passed around the council table.

The council voted to accept Meehling’s resignation.

Meehling said he will remain as a crew member at the fire department. McMaster will serve as acting chief for the time being.

“I’ll stay on to help Joey out,” he told the mayor and council. “I’m not taking this out on you or members of the township. I’m here to protect my people. We should look at other ways, instead of just saying, ‘The insurance said ‘no.’’ Is my life worth more than $2,500?”

Meehling had served in the position leading the department, which has 24 members, since November 2016, after previous chief Ed Webb resigned to take another job.

In other business, the council:
• Voted to make payments on unemployment for former police chief Randy Lewis, who resigned in summer 2017.

• Voted against the idea of sponsoring a wrestling event at Triangle Park. Templeton said that the event, for which he was approached, would have to be sponsored by the village for insurance costs, as is the case with Octoberfest each year.
While the wrestling organizers would have insurance for those taking part in the event itself, the village would be liable for any incidents that could occur regarding attendees. The council voted 5-0 against the sponsorship, with member Richard McMaster passing.

• Heard from police chief Randy Thompson, who said the department is continuing to focus on a suspected drug house in the village.
He said multiple visits have been made to the location, “all legitimate,” and that some individuals have been cited, arrested and have moved from the area.
Thompson said hes working to get officers certified and recertified to use three tasers, which were recently purchased by the mayor. He said these would only be used as a last resort and would “carry the same weight” as a situation involving lethal arms.
Thompson also voiced support for the use of Narcan by the department, stating that those treated by officers can be referred to treatment.
He cited the case of a woman he knew who had received treatment and was now active in speaking on addiction issues.
“If we save one person’s life and they go on to help others, it’s worth it,” Thompson said. “What is that was your son on the call? Would you not want him to be given one more chance?”

• Heard from Burd, who took a moment to recognize Josh Cooper of the street department and to present him with a card and gift certificate on behalf of the council.
“Josh is a tremendous person. He has a lot to do in the village,” Burd said. “He always has a smile on his face. If you give him a job, he does it. I would like tot take a moment to tell him how much we appreciate him on a job well done.”

• The next meeting of council is set for 7 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 3 at village hall.