West Virginia Firefighter’s Death Prompts Probe

February 26, 2014

The West Virginia Fire Commission is investigating a Harrison County volunteer fire department following the death of a member of another department during the response to a cellphone tower collapse.

The investigation of the Summit Park Volunteer Fire Department follows complaints by relatives of Nutter Fort Volunteer Fire Department member Michael Garrett and other firefighters, The Exponent Telegram reported.

Both departments, along with several others, responded to the collapse of a cellphone tower on Feb. 1 in the Summit Park area. Garrett and two workers from Oklahoma were killed when a second tower collapsed.

“Anytime there’s a complaint – a legitimate complaint – against a fire department, it is investigated,” Clarksburg Fire Chief Rick Scott, who serves on the fire commission, told the newspaper.

Garrett’s relatives and other Nutter Fort firefighters have questioned whether Summit Park had an adequate number of firefighters and equipment. They also have questioned whether the department is properly registered with the state. They raised these concerns Thursday during a Harrison County Commission meeting and Friday during a meeting with the fire commission in Charleston.

County Commissioner Ron Watson said Summit Park plans to remove itself from service while the investigation is conducted.

“We expect to receive the official letter shortly,” Watson told the newspaper Saturday. “But we’ve been told they are removing themselves from service while the investigation continues.”

Scott said the fire commission recently investigated a separate workers’ compensation complaint against Summit Park and decertified the department. The department’s certification was reinstated after it renewed its workers’ compensation coverage.

The County Commission said Thursday it would consider pursuing court action to close the fire department. Harrison County Prosecuting Attorney Joe Shaffer said he would let the fire commission take the lead.

“They are the entity that establishes first-due areas for fire departments,” he said. “They also determine the propriety of an entity being able to operate as a fire department, so I think we need to wait and see what they do first.”

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