Whitesburg KY
Mostly cloudy
Mostly cloudy

Meeting grows heated after fire officials trade charges

An angry exchange between Henry Cook of the Gordon Fire Department and Gary Rogers of Letcher Fire and Rescue caused a good deal of tension at the March meeting of the Letcher County Fiscal Court. Cook told the court he had come to the meeting to answer accusations leveled by Rogers against the Gordon department at last month’s meeting to the effect that it had not responded to an emergency call from a woman that lives next door to the fire station. Cook termed Rogers’s accusation as a “blatant lie.”

“There was not a word of truth (in Rogers’s remarks) except that it takes Letcher 45 minutes to get to Gordon,” said Cook. “We’re not a rescue operation, we are a fire department. But when a man lies, you should question him.”

Rogers said at last month’s meeting that the woman had fallen and could not get back into her chair and the Gordon department had not responded to pages to help her. Cook told the court the Gordon Fire Department is a fire department and does not have an ambulance service as the Letcher department does and could not take care of injured patients. He said that for that reason, first responders at Gordon are not trained past basic lifesaving techniques and that the department has been cautioned by its insurance carrier against performing more than basic emergency life saving on victims.

Cook referenced a meeting at the Gordon Fire Station he said was attended by 80 community members including Judge/Executive Jim Ward, and asked Ward if anyone had complained or said there is problem with the Gordon Fire Department. Ward agreed that there had been no complaints. Cook also said it is very difficult to receive pages at Gordon. The paging system is a countywide problem and has been the subject of a number of complaints at previous meetings.

Both departments had numerous members and backers in the courtroom and there were a number of exchanges in the audience. One person referred to Rogers having his bodyguard with him and Rogers replied that he would not need a bodyguard for him. Eventually, three county officers were in the courtroom but only heated words were exchanged.

Cook also had words for Fourth District Magistrate Keith Adams, who he said had called the Gordon Fire Department out at the February meeting. At that time, Rogers had declined to say which department he was talking about, but Adams, whose district includes Gordon, said the department in question, Gordon, should be asked to come to the next court meeting to respond to the allegations.

Adams carried on a contentious exchange with Cook from the magistrates’ table and asked if the department responded to car wrecks with injuries. Cook said it did but only performed basic life saving. Cook said the department members did not have advanced training in emergency medical technology techniques and spoke to Rogers in the audience, saying that nothing he (Rogers) had said at the February meeting said had any truth in it.

“ You’re the liar,” said Rogers. “I said you did not respond to pages.”

Rogers then took the floor and started to read from a 911 report. At that time, Judge Ward shut down the proceeding, saying that 911 records were covered under the privacy provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Ward suggested scheduling a closed meeting with the court and the two departments to settle the differences in a private setting and said his office would arrange the meeting.

In other business, Fifth District Magistrate Wayne Fleming told Judge Ward he was troubled by the fact that some people had been denied their right to speak at a recent meeting and said he believes it is everyone’s right to address the court during fiscal court meetings. County Attorney Jamie Hatton said that under Kentucky Revised Statutes, court meetings must be public but there are no actual provisions to allow individuals to speak. Fleming made a motion that everyone be allowed to address the court and added that if the five-minute rule, which was passed several years ago but has been laxly enforced, is put into effect, it must be enforced for everyone and not just the speakers who agree with the court’s position. Fleming’s motion passed unanimously.

Elaine Wilson, director of Adventure Tourism for the Kentucky Tourism Cabinet, also addressed the court on the Kentucky Trail Town Program in which Whitesburg is participating and told the audience that Whitesburg can become a portal to the Pine Mountain Linear State Park trail that will benefit the entire county through tourism development. Wilson said the addition of a trail connecting the city and the park will bring hikers and their money into town for meals, supplies, and other things and can help to create a thriving tourist economy.

Wilson pointed to Damascus, Va., anther coal town that was left behind in postindustrial America, as a place that has benefitted tremendously from tourism through the development of the Virginia Creeper Trail. She said Letcher County has a number of assets that can draw tourists and the county should keep adventure tourism and outdoor activity at the forefront of its economic plans. She was accompanied by Russ Clark and Annabelle Purcell of the National Park Service and a number of AmeriCorps Workers. Judge Ward read proclamations of appreciation for Wilson, Purcell, and Clark as well as each AmeriCorps worker and said the court appreciates their willingness to help Letcher County develop the trail and the tourism possibilities it will provide.

Magistrate Fleming also brought up the lack of lodging in the county and said that during many county events such as homecoming festivals, visitors have to stay in Virginia or neighboring counties, and asked if there is any state funding to help with that. Wilson said that no state money is directly available but there are grants and incentives to help attract businesses, including hostelries. She said the best thing is to develop attractions and allow the lodging market to develop with them, pointing to a number of bed and breakfasts established by private citizens in Damascus.

Leave a Reply