Court throws more water on fire company feud

January 01, 1995|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Sun Staff Writer

Harford Circuit Judge Stephen M. Waldron has granted still another extension of an injunction against the Citizens Volunteer Fire Company, the 75-year-old company on the Maryland-Pennsylvania border whose members are in the midst of a "divorce."

The ruling extends until Friday the deadline for the division of property between Citizens, in Fawn Grove, Pa., and the Norrisville Volunteer Fire Company, a new company formed by Harford County members who seceded from the Citizens company in August.

"At least we're talking," said Harford County Attorney Ernest Crofoot, who is representing the Harford firefighters. "We exchange proposals all the time, but we haven't gotten close enough."

Richard Price, chairman of the Citizens board of directors, agreed that the sides are making progress toward a resolution out of court.

"But there are some things we simply won't move on. That's the consensus of the membership," he said.

The dispute dates to Aug. 30, when the Harford County Fire and Ambulance Association voted to secede from the Citizens company, which had a firehouse on Harkins Road in the Pylesville-Norrisville area of Harford County in addition to its home base in Pennsylvania.

The secessionists formed the Norrisville Fire Company and vowed to remain at the Harkins Road station, formerly known as Citizens House No. 2. At the same time, county officials and firefighters sought an injunction in Harford County Circuit Court to bar the Citizens company from taking any emergency equipment from the Harford County site.

The injunction was granted and has since been extended by mutual consent five times.

Tensions among the 75 members of the original company had been mounting for years, in part because of the significant difference in financial support that the company was receiving from Harford County and from the Pennsylvania municipalities.

In fiscal 1994, for instance, Harford County contributed $156,496 to the joint company's operating budget while Fawn Grove area municipalities contributed $10,350.

Court records show that since fiscal 1983, Harford County has contributed $350,000 toward the reconstruction and renovation of the Harkins Road station and more than $1.2 million toward the joint fire company's operations and equipment purchases.

Currently, there are four fire trucks, two fire chief's cars, one brush truck and one ambulance at the Fawn Grove station and three fire trucks and one utility vehicle at the Norrisville station.

Last month, the Harford County Council approved spending up to $50,000 to hire the Baltimore law firm of Piper & Marbury to represent the county and local firefighters if the two companies cannot reach an out-of-court settlement.

The Harford County firefighters have proposed the transfer of ownership of the Harkins Road station and at least one major piece of equipment there to the Norrisville fire company, Mr. Crofoot said.

Fawn Grove firefighters have been less specific publicly about their proposals.

"We're trying to hold a middle-of-the-stream position on the division of assets," Mr. Price said Thursday. "But on the other hand, they separated from us. There was no dissolution of the company. So the equipment still belongs to Citizens."

He said the company has had no problem agreeing to extend the injunction while negotiations continue.

"We're making some progress, and it would certainly be best for both parties if we settled out of court," Mr. Price said.

He said that the two stations continue to assist one another on "mutual aid" calls and that the citizens of Harford County and Pennsylvania are being adequately served in emergencies.

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