Firefighters consider appealing property ruling

The ongoing matter of volunteer firefighters having items returned to them by the city likely will go to Circuit Court, since a Friday meeting in District Court didn’t produce results volunteers hoped for.

Corey Polidore, president of Station 13, composed of volunteers who broke away from the city Fire Department in February, said that at the meeting the city agreed to return only 3 percent of what firefighters requested in their $494,316 lawsuit.

The volunteers want back equipment and other items they said they purchased for Fire Department use, and are suing the city and Fire Chief Rick Hoppes to get it back.

The volunteers’ lawyer, Bruce Bright, City Attorney Mark Tilghman and city representatives all participated in the meeting, held in Judge W. Newton Jackson’s chambers.

Property the independent fire company wants returned includes “non-operational stuff the company purchased with its own money over the years” including furniture, computers, pots, pans and kitchen equipment; operational equipment including axes, hoses and implements regularly carried on a fire truck, but not gear worn to fires; apparatus purchased by Station 1 members; personal belongings; and helmets purchased by the city Fire Department that were gifted to Station 1 members, Bright said.

Polidore said city officials agreed on only furniture, pictures on the walls, exercise equipment, computers and a vending machine purchased by the volunteers — but no equipment, gear or helmets.

“We appreciate them being willing to turn that stuff over to us, but if they’re willing to negotiate, that will avoid another court date. My hope is that we will resolve this. Let’s just work it out,” Polidore said after the meeting.

“We’re not trying to cost the city any money. We’re not trying to hurt anybody. We are just trying to get back what’s rightfully ours,” he said.

“We have the evidence and the proof that we purchased things. There were some things that were gifts to the city and they are not in that lawsuit. There’s a lot that was not just given to the city but for the city to use while we were there. We have every receipt and every check,” Polidore said.

The lawsuit states property was purchased by members “using its own funds and not using any city funds.”

The volunteers’ Feb. 22 announcement that they were leaving the department, effective July 1, resulted in the “subsequent locking of plaintiff and its members out of Station 1, threatening of unfounded criminal trespass charges against certain of plaintiff’s members and (more particularly) defendants’ immediate seizure and exercise of exclusive dominion and control over the property, which belongs to the plaintiff,” the lawsuit states.

“We have clear proof of what we, the company, purchased and therefore what the company owns and we don’t believe there is any area of legitimate dispute. The property was purchased with the company’s funds. None of those funds came from the city,” Bright said.

The newly created Salisbury Independent Fire Company-Station 13 has a board of directors, members and officers and is an established company has a right to its property, Bright said, and has been recognized by the Wicomico County Firefighters Association and Maryland State Firefighters Association.

“It is imperative and critical that (property) seized and being held without grounds … be promptly returned,” the lawsuit states.

Meantime, Station 13’s territory remains undecided.

Polidore said volunteers have two possible station locations in mind and will have fundraisers to help with expenses, but he wasn’t ready to discuss details.

Wicomico County Executive Bob Culver last week authorized David Shipley, the county’s Director of Emergency Services, to give Station 13 land outside the Salisbury bypass.

In a letter to Shipley, Culver stated the Parsonsburg Volunteer Fire Company will respond to emergencies at the Salisbury Regional Airport. Changes are expected to take effect Sept. 15.

Culver said he wants to clarify a designated territory for Station 13. Mayor Jake Day, though, is standing firm against the city’s giving up any of its coverage area.

Any changes in the recently signed city-county Fire Services Agreement, which designates coverage areas for the city’s three fire stations, has to be approved by Day, Culver and fire chiefs, the mayor said.

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