WELLSVILLE - Leadership of the Wellsville Fire Department remains in doubt following a personnel committee meeting, which spawned an emergency meeting of the full village council, on Thursday evening.
The pair of meetings were called to address the situation surrounding Fire Chief Bill Smith, who was alleged to not be certified as a firefighter by the state of Ohio since 2009. According to a statement made by village Mayor Susan Haugh on Tuesday, Smith and a volunteer firefighter, Mick Comparetto, had issues while navigating their respective firefighter recertifications online with Ohio Emergency Medical Services.
The committee meeting went into executive session immediately, with the doors to council chambers remaining closed for more than 45 minutes, before councilwoman Diane Dinch emerged and requested media approval for an emergency council meeting.
Being granted, the meeting was called to order with all council members present. Haugh made a recommendation to hire retired Wellsville Fire Chief David Lloyd as a paid call-out firefighter with the department. Councilman Tony Cataldo moved the recommendation, which was seconded by Dinch and approved by all council members. The meeting was adjourned immediately afterwards.
The hiring of Lloyd as a call-out firefighter caused some confusion, since Haugh had announced his unofficial appointment as acting fire chief on Tuesday. The mayor offered no definitive answer as to who, if anyone, is acting fire chief in Wellsville before she departed from village hall.
After the meeting, village solicitor Andy Beech stated that, unless the OEMS review board in Columbus issues a finding against Smith, he is still fire chief for Wellsville FD. Smith is still on paid vacation leave until the board makes its final decision, however, leaving the village without an acting fire chief. Presently, an ordinance to name Lloyd as chief is in the works.
There was also no explanation for why the invalid status of Smith and Comparetto was only discovered last month, which Haugh previously asserted. Since firefighters must recertify every three years with the state, a failed attempt to recertify that slipped past in 2009 should have been discovered in 2012.
For his part, Smith, says he attempted to recertify on schedule in 2012, with the same results as in 2009: Assurances from the state that the process had been successful and that a new card was forthcoming. "It never showed up," he said.
Haugh's assertion that Smith made numerous attempts to contact OEMS when new certification cards weren't issued to him and Comparetto has been countered by administrators with the agency. Joseph Andrews, communications director for OEMS, said he could find no documentation of Smith completing the recertification application online, or of Smith contacting them with his concerns over the process.
"We don't have any record of him calling to say that he was having a problem with the online registration recertification," Andrews said via phone from Columbus. "We have no evidence that he attempted to do that."
When asked about Andrews' comments, Smith scoffed. "That's what they're saying now," he said. "That's what they keep telling me and the other guys, too."
Questions have also been raised about the legal status of any citations or fire inspections that Smith has carried out during the four-year period where he may not have been certified. When asked about such concerns, Beech said that any comments before a decision has been made in Columbus would be conjecture. "I don't know at this point," he said. "It hasn't been addressed."