Firefighters sue city to get disputed property returned

The Salisbury Independent Volunteer Fire Company is suing the city government and its Fire Chief Rick Hoppes for $494,316 in an effort to have property returned.

Members withdrew in February to form their own fire company, and the city has not returned property they say is theirs. The lawsuit charges property was unjustly detained without basis.

If the matter can’t be settled through private negotiation, it will go to court on Friday in District Court in Salisbury, lawyer Bruce F. Bright said.

Bright said a representative from his law office of Ayres, Jenkins, Gordy & Almand, based in Ocean City, met with Corey Polidore, president of the Independent fire company, Salisbury City City Attorney Mark Tilghman and Hoppes last week to work toward a solution.

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.

“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 fire department has a board of directors, members and officers and as an established company has a right to its property, he said, especially since it has a corporate base on Snow Hill Road 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.

Chris Demone, who handles public relations for Mayor Jake Day’s office, said there “won’t be any more said about it from this office at this time.”

Hoppes declined comment, saying it would be unwise for him to speak about an open legal proceeding.

Polidore told the Salisbury Independent he and fellow members are willing to settle out of court “if the city is willing to negotiate in good faith.”

“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.”

Independent members’ announcement, on Feb. 22, to separate from the City fire 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.


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