Whitesburg KY
Mostly cloudy
Mostly cloudy

County wants Attorney General to investigate fire dept.

The Letcher Fiscal Court adopted a resolution this week asking the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office to investigate allegations that the Mayking Volunteer Fire Department has become more concerned with promoting gambling than with fighting fires.

The resolution, proposed by Letcher Judge/Executive Jim Ward, asks Attorney General Jack Conway to investigate charges leveled against the department and its chief, Archie Crawford Sr., by David Chaffins, a fire department board member, and Roland Craft, a Letcher County constable. Ward also announced that the Mayking department would not receive any county funds until after the investigation is finished.

At issue are charges made by Chaffins and Craft during the fiscal court’s January meeting. The two men claim that Chief Crawford has taken over the department and turned the firehouse into a gambling hall.

Chaffins told the court that Crawford ordered both of the department’s fire engines moved out of the firehouse and into an old garage next door which is heated by only a wood stove. He said that because of the small size of the bays in the old automobile repair facility, it is impossible to keep water in trucks. Chaffins also said the department has failed to respond to several fires, including a recent one at Cram Creek.

“They got a 911 page about a fire on Cram Creek and didn’t respond,” Chaffins told the fiscal court Monday night. “They were playing poker in the firehouse and did not respond to the page.”

Chaffins told the court that bingo games used to raise funds are now the department’s top concern. He also charged that a countywide smoking ban is being ignored, with bingo players being allowed to smoke if they pay one dollar for special memberships. Chaffins also told court that there are questionable bookkeeping practices.

Crawford and the fire department’s board chairman, Arius Holbrook Jr., told The Mountain Eagle in separate interviews Tuesday that there is no truth to any of the charges made by Chaffins or by Constable Craft, who told the court that the situation at the Mayking department is so bad that few members now bother to even answer emergency pages sent to firefighters by E-911.

Chaffins told the court that Crawford received $200,000 for land he sold the fire department for a larger bingo hall. Chaffins also said he thinks it is improper for Crawford’s wife to serve as the fire department’s treasurer, a position which serves as overseer of grants and funds made available through the fiscal court, including a $26,000 annual stipend given to each fire department in the county.

Letcher County Attorney Harold Bolling told Chaffins he would also forward the matter to the Attorney General’s office. Bolling said he spoke to the Attorney General’s office about the matter several months ago and was told the office is behind in conducting investigations. Bolling suggested the remainder of the fire department board of directors, which Chaffins said consists of three members of the original 10, hold a public meeting to address the issues. Chaffins told Bolling that the chief can only be removed by a vote of the volunteer firemen and that Crawford had stacked the department with his supporters and refuses to allow any new members in.

Craft agreed, saying that there are a lot of names on the fire department’s roster but none of them respond to pages. He said that the Sandlick and Fleming- Neon departments usually have to respond to fire calls made to Mayking. He also said that one board member and the chief are supposed to be the only check signers, but that Crawford and his wife do all the check writing for the department. Craft also said he doubts Crawford would allow the firehouse to be used for a board meeting held for the purpose of appointing a new chief

Ward told Craft and Chaffins they could hold a public meeting concerning their accusations in the county courthouse.

Crawford told The Mountain Eagle that the allegations are false and refuted each one individually. He said that the initial accusation that he has turned the firehouse into a gambling hall is untrue. Crawford said the trucks can respond as easily from the old repair garage as they can from the firehouse next door. Crawford also said that while volunteer firemen may play poker among themselves to pass time while on duty, there are no organized poker games.

Crawford also told The Eagle that the reported fire at Cram Creek turned out to be a false alarm, but two volunteer firemen did respond. He said his wife is not the department’s treasurer. Crawford said his son, Archie Crawford Jr., is the elected treasurer. He also denied emphatically allegations about the department keeping two sets of books. He called the charge a “straight out lie.”

Holbrook, the board chairman, said the department keeps only one set of books. He said there are separate accounts for the general fund and the bingo funds and that at times bingo funds are transferred into the general fund as needed.

Crawford said the purpose of the bingo games is to help raise money for the Domestic Violence Center in Whitesburg, and is part of a community outreach effort he said he tries to make whenever possible.

Crawford also said the property he sold the department will be used as a site for a new fire station. He said that Chaffins and Craft made similar allegations several years ago, and that at his request the Internal Revenue Service audited the department’s books and found nothing wrong. Holbrook confirmed that the audit was conducted and agreed that no irregularities were found.

Holbrook also said workings of the Mayking board were wrongly explained to the court. He said there are seven board members and that they plan to hold a meeting in February to replace the other three and to replace him as chairman as well.

Holbrook said he is deeply involved with work for the Masonic Lodge and that he tried to resign from the Mayking fire board last year, but a replacement couldn’t be found. He said that other than the county allocations, bingo is the only means the department has to raise funds. He said that every bit of money earned from the bingo goes directly to the fire department for equipment, maintenance, and other necessary items.

Leave a Reply