Fire chief caught filling pool says divers use it for training

But couple who reported him are unconvinced

August 12, 1999|By Jamal E. Watson and Nancy A. Youssef | Jamal E. Watson and Nancy A. Youssef,SUN STAFF

Pat and Bill Kidwell couldn't believe their eyes.

In the midst of a statewide drought that forced the governor to place major restrictions on the use of water, the Howard County couple observed a shiny red truck Tuesday pumping hundreds of gallons of water to top off the home swimming pool of Clarksville Volunteer Fire Chief Patrick Marlatt.

Bill Kidwell grabbed his video camcorder and rushed to the chief's home on Triadelphia Mill Road to gather evidence while his wife stayed behind to contact authorities and television stations.

But yesterday it appeared that the couple, who live nearby on Triadelphia Mill Road, might have acted too hastily, as Marlatt and other fire officials responded with a press conference.

Marlatt said that he did give permission for the department to fill his pool -- using a fire department vehicle and water taken from hydrants -- after the department's diving team asked to use the pool to test new diving equipment. He said that the team usually uses county pools when they're available, but it has been using his home pool as a backup for years.

"In the past two weeks, divers have used my pool about four times," Marlatt said at a news conference outside of the fire station, noting that his pool also has been used to train divers.

"This was all a big misunderstanding," said Marlatt, who has been chief of the department for three years and has served the department for the past 30.

"I wish very much that the individuals that were concerned approached us. We would have been happy to share with them what was going on."

The Kidwells say that they saw no diving crews or training materials that indicated that testing was taking place. They say that this isn't the first time they've seen water being placed in Marlatt's pool, and they believe the action served only recreational purposes.

"The county obviously thinks that this is a joke," Pat Kidwell said. "But this is an abuse of authority. Right now, we're facing a water shortage -- our fire chief should be setting an example."

Sgt. Morris Carroll, a spokesman for the Howard County police department, said that when police arrived at Marlatt's residence, they were unsure whether the incident constituted an offense.

"It appeared to be a violation but we are aware there are certain exceptions. Firefighter activities are exempted," Carroll said. "At the same time, it is a private residence."

Carroll said officials recommended that the fire department obtain county permission to conduct testing at Marlatt's pool.

"Rules are rules," Pat Kidwell said. "This was not right and I still believe that."

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