UPDATE: Fire Department Reorganizes After Scandal

By: Jennifer Rizzi Email
By: Jennifer Rizzi Email

UPDATE 8/20/13 @ 10:30 a.m.
SMITHERS, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Fayette County officials say they've made big changes to a volunteer fire department after its former chief robbed it of money.

Timothy Whittington pleaded guilty to embezzling thousands of dollars from the Smithers VFD during several years.

Officials say the accusation brought leadership problems to light within the organization.

"They're keeping all of their records up-to-date now, and their finances like they're supposed to," Fayette County Fire Coordinator Joe Crist said.

Crist says they have a new board of directors that now includes members from outside the department. That wasn't the case before.

He also says the department fell behind in training, and few members had any upper-level instruction.

"I've been down several times to see that they're doing their training every night and keeping up with the current standards that they need to be," Crist said.

Officials wouldn't comment on how the department's procedural errors went unnoticed before the accusations.

They say new bylaws are in the process of being written and will be approved by the Secretary of State's office.

Whittington's sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 30.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 8/20/13 @ 10:30 a.m.
SMITHERS, W.Va. (WSAZ) - A former fire chief in Fayette County has admitted to stealing money from his department.

Authorities say Timothy Whittington, former chief of the Smithers Volunteer Fire Department, pleaded guilty to embezzling thousands of dollars in state funds.

Representatives with the Fayette County Prosecutor's Office say the plea agreement includes paying full restitution.

His wife, Patricia, was originally charged with fraudulent schemes. Officials say that charge has been dismissed.

Whittington's sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 30.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest on this story.

UPDATE 5/27/13 @ 9:30 a.m.
SMITHERS, W.Va. (AP) - An August trial has been set for the former chief of the Smithers Volunteer Fire Department and his wife.

A Fayette County grand jury indicted Timothy Whittington and Patricia Whittington earlier this month on felony charges related to allegedly taking department funds for personal use.

Timothy Whittington is charged with embezzlement. Patricia Whittington is charged with fraudulent schemes.

The Associated Press reports that the couple pleaded not guilty to the charges Friday in Fayette County Circuit Court. They are scheduled to stand trial Aug. 20.

Timothy Whittington is accused of taking money from the fire department between July 2010 and September 2012. An audit showed thousands of dollars was missing from the department.

He resigned in February.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest on this story.



UPDATE: 5/18/13 @ 9:50 p.m.
FAYETTE COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ & AP) -- A former fire chief and his wife are accused of stealing money from the department.

A grand jury in Fayette County, West Virginia, has indicted Timothy Whittington on one count of embezzlement. His wife, Patricia Whittington, was indicted on one count of fraudulent schemes.

Timothy Whittington is accused of taking money from the fire department between July 2010 and September 2012. He resigned last year after an audit showed thousands of dollars went missing.

Keep clicking WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 1/30/13 at 10:32 p.m.
SMITHERS, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- More drama is unfolding at the Smithers Volunteer Fire Department, this time with the resignation of one of their leaders.

"I'm not glad that he resigned -- I'm glad that I think he did the right thing," Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper said.

Carper said Smithers’ embattled fire Chief Tim Whittington resigned Tuesday night.

Whittington has recently been under fire for financial problems.

"There has been some very intense investigation," Carper said. "I don't think it's any secret; there's been allegations made which I think are going to be proven."

While Smithers is in Fayette County, it also responds to calls in Kanawha County, prompting funding from the Kanawha County Commission. That is until last November when the funding to the fire department was axed from the Kanawha County Commission in part because of the allegations against Whittington.

"I, frankly, do not favor at this time, and probably never will, restoring the funding," Carper said.

Now, Carper says that the fire department will have to do a lot to prove themselves to get that funding back and choosing a new leader to take them in that direction might be the first step.

"I don't take any pleasure in this -- this isn't good for the fire service, but it's time to move forward," Carper said.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 11/28/12 @ 10 a.m.
SMITHERS, W.Va. (AP) -- The Smithers Volunteer Fire Department has corrected insurance problems that forced it to shut down for more than two weeks.

Training issues still have to be addressed before the department is in full compliance with the state.

The department was closed on Nov. 10 after it fell behind in its insurance payments.

It reopened Tuesday afternoon.

State Fire Marshal Sterling Lewis says that the department is working to correct training deficiencies.

Fayette County Fire Coordinator Steve Cruikshank says the department also plans to revise its bylaws to ensure some public oversight.

At least three members of its board will be citizens.



UPDATE 11/12/12 @ 6:45 p.m.
SMITHERS, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A volunteer fire department in Fayette County is not responding to emergency calls because it's behind on the bills, and now the Kanawha County Commission has pulled all mutual aid funding.

The Smithers Volunteer Fire Department is shut down indefinitely until the department gets on better financial footing.

Smithers Mayor Thomas Skaggs tells WSAZ.com firefighters didn't pay insurance, so the trucks can not leave the station.

Firefighters refused to answer questions or comment on the situation. A reporter with WSAZ.com was ignored and then asked to leave.

"They've made a mess out of their situation," Kanawha County Commissioner Kent Carper said. "It's sad because so many of our volunteer firefighters suffer when something like this happens."

Kanawha County used to provide $10,000 in mutual aid to Smithers. That funding was pulled after the department failed to pay workers compensation bills, according to Carper.

"We cut them off. We wanted to send a message," Carper said. "They'll stay cut off."

Carper says volunteer firefighters make up more than three quarters of all fire protection in the state.

Just down the street in Smithers at the Christian Family Book Shop, the owners say they know the importance of firefighters.

"We're very thankful for the fire department," store owner Grace Nutter said. "We know how important it is to have a good fire department."

Nearly two years ago, flames tore through a neighboring building, causing damage to their business within minutes. But with Smithers not taking calls, fire crews are traveling several more minutes from Boomer or even Montgomery to fight the flames.

"That is concerning because with the fire department it's the time," Nutter said. "It's all about the time."

The mayor says the department is fixing the financial fiasco so they can get back to helping the community. The payment on insurance just needs to be processed and the station can reopen.

"I want the citizens of Smithers to remain calm and know they're protected," Skaggs said.

Carper says alternative options are also being considered: One is making the department into a sub station and allowing Montgomery Volunteer Fire Department to take over.

"When you see something like this -- it puts a mark against all and it should not," Carper said.

Carper says no funding will be given to Smithers VFD until they can prove they have their finances in order.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



ORIGINAL STORY 11/11/12
SMITHERS, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The Smithers Volunteer Fire Department remains shut down after falling behind on insurance payments, according to Fayette County fire officials.

Officials say firefighters cannot use their trucks without insurance. They say the Montgomery and Boomer fire departments are helping to cover calls until payments are processed, which is expected to happen sometime this week.

"I want the citizens of Smithers to remain calm and know that they're protected by the fire departments in Montgomery and Boomer," Mayor Thomas Skaggs said. "They should be safe because of the close proximity of those fire departments."

The fire station has been closed since Saturday and that has some neighbors feeling at risk.

"We need all that we can get," David Spaulding said. "They can't respond to every call. It gets too thin and then you don't have enough people to take care of all the emergencies."

Jewll Scott owns and runs O'Scha's Pub in Smithers -- just down the street from the fire department. She says being so close was always a source of comfort in case her business caught fire.

"This building would probably go quick, because it's so old," she said.

She hopes the fire department re-opens soon not just for her own sake, but for everyone in the community.

"There are a lot of apartment buildings in this town, so if one of the fire departments would go, it's hard to tell who would lose a home," she said.

City leaders say the department also fell behind on workers' compensation payments a couple of months ago. They say that issue was addressed shortly afterward.

Firefighters told WSAZ.com they did not want to make a statement at this time.

Keep clicking WSAZ.com for updates.


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