EFD Chief Retiring After 40-year Career

Mayor Jerry Marco presents a plaque to retiring EFD Chief Tom Meader.

Elkins, W. Va., April 21, 2021: Elkins Fire Department Chief Tom Meader announced his retirement at last night’s special council meeting after more than 40 years of volunteer and paid service at EFD. His retirement is effective April 30. Captain Steven Himes was appointed interim chief and a committee was formed to search for Meader’s replacement.

The year 1979 saw two important developments in the history of the Elkins Fire Department. That was the year that EFD gained new room to grow in its building at 216 Fourth Street, after the city government’s administrative offices were moved from there to the former federal building on Davis Avenue. That was also the year that Meader joined the department as a volunteer firefighter.

At the time, Meader was operating Tom’s Sunoco service station, at the corner of Randolph Avenue and Davis Avenue. Friends who were volunteer firefighters suggested that he should apply.

“It seemed like a good fit,” says Meader. “I had my own business, and I was located close to the station, so I’d be able to get down there quickly. I thought I’d give it a try.”

Meader soon realized he had both a knack and a passion for the work of a firefighter.

“I loved every minute of it,” he says. “I loved the work, I loved the training, I loved the camaraderie. There’s a reason why, once someone joins the department, they very seldom end up leaving. It just gets in your blood.”

In 2001, having sold his service station to future Randolph County Commissioner Chris See, Meader joined the City of Elkins Water Distribution Department. He was still serving as a volunteer firefighter, however, and—in 2004—he accepted the then-unpaid position of EFD chief. Four years later, in 2008, the Elkins council appointed Meader the first paid EFD chief since 1986.

“It just got to a point where the budget was too big and there was too much else going on for the chief job to stay volunteer,” says Meader.

Even as chief, Meader maintained a hands-on role in the department’s emergency responses. Until 2016, the department had only one watch-standing firefighter on duty per shift, but best safety practices required at least a two-person team before a fire engine could depart the station.

“There were a lot of times when it was just me and the duty man,” says Meader. “I fought a lot of fires even once I made chief.”

Once on-scene, these first-responding skeleton crews were typically joined by volunteers. Meader says volunteers were and still are crucial to the department’s success.

“Our volunteers are fantastic, and we really couldn’t do what we do without them,” says Meader. “You’re talking about guys who will get up at 2 a.m., fight a fire, then go to work by 6 a.m. somewhere else. They don’t have to do this, but they choose to. It gets in their blood.”

Still, as time went on, Meader began to notice trends that concerned him.

“There’s less and less people coming out to volunteer,” he says. “Every volunteer department is struggling to get volunteers these days, and some of them are going to go out of existence. It’s just a changing world, and you have to move forward. You can’t just stay there circling the drain.”

Meader’s plan for moving forward depended on increasing the number of paid, civil-service firefighters working at the department. (Although the chief position is paid, it is not a civil-service position.) There was a problem, though.

“We just didn’t have the budget,” says Meader. “That’s when I started looking at expanding the fire fee. Why shouldn’t the people outside the city pay for the services they get from us, just like the people inside?”

Property owners inside Elkins had long paid a fire-protection service fee to help support the department, but EFD—which answers an average of 650 calls a year—is required by the state fire marshal’s office to respond both inside and outside of city limits throughout an overall region known as the department’s “first-due area.” The EFD first-due area is 150 square miles and home to more than 15,000 people.

After establishing that West Virginia Code §8-13-13 grants cities the authority to charge such a fee, even outside city limits, Meader worked with council and his fellow administrative officers to make his proposal a reality. In 2015, council authorized collection of fire fees throughout the EFD first-due area.

The department is now entirely funded by the proceeds of this fee, which are restricted solely for the department’s use. Fire-fee income enabled the department to expand first to seven and now—as of last night’s swearing in of two new civil-service members—nine professional firefighters, or three per shift, in addition to the chief.

The predictable revenues of the fire fee also enable the department to plan more effectively for the purchase of new fire engines, which must be replaced every 20 years and which currently start at $450,000.

The expanded fire-fee income also helped Meader achieve his goal of improving the department’s Public Protection Classification (PPC) issued by the Insurance Services Office (ISO). ISO PPC classifications are based on multiple factors, but one of the most important is the average number of on-duty firefighters per shift in a given year.

“Getting to three firefighters on duty per shift helped us improve our ISO rating from a 5 to a 3,” says Meader.

According to the ISO website, out of 523 West Virginia fire departments rated by the organization, EFD is one of only 36 with a score of 3 or better. PPC scores for a given community are part of the formulas that insurance companies use to establish rates for structures located there; although these formulas are complex, lower ISO PPC ratings generally benefit policyholders.

“I’m very pleased with everything we’ve been able to accomplish because of the fire fees,” says Meader. “We couldn’t have done it any other way.”

In addition to the nine paid civil-service positions, the department has around 30 volunteers. Professional and volunteer personnel are qualified to provide emergency medical services and perform vehicular extraction, HAZMAT containment, and trench, high-angle, and swift-water rescue. EFD also has eight certified divers. Multiple times per year, EFD firefighters visit area schools to instruct students about smoke detectors and fire safety.

When asked what he plans to do in his retirement, Meader says it might not look too different from what he does today.

“I love my job and I hate to retire but the time has come,” he says. “I’ll probably still keep volunteering though because I really can’t stand to leave it behind. I’ve been in this building and running out to fires and everything else almost every day since 1979. Every day was a different experience, and that’s what I love about it. Anyone who thinks they might be interested in firefighting, I tell them there’s always something new to learn, and when you can help someone in a tragic situation it’s the greatest feeling in the world.”

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City Hall News: Week of April 19, 2021

Elkins, W. Va., April 17, 2021: Council “lays the levy” and appoints two new firefighters at a special meeting on Tuesday. Also meeting this week are council’s Rules & Ordinances Committee and Municipal Properties Committee and the Elkins Sanitary Board. Street sweeping starts Monday and there is an Earth Day celebration at City Park on Thursday.

The Elkins street-sweeping season begins Monday. Starting May 3, city police will ticket vehicles parked on streets scheduled for street sweeping. Schedule and other info: www.bit.ly/ElkinsStreetSweeper.

On Monday at 9 a.m., council’s Rules & Ordinances Committee considers requests to amend both the rules of the Firefighters Civil Service Commission and the establishing ordinance for the Elkins Tree Board. The committee will also take up the recommendation of the Committee on Boards and Commissions to eliminate the Enforcement Agency, which has not met in years because its duties have been absorbed by council’s Public Safety Committee.

Later Monday, at 3:15 p.m., the Elkins Sanitary Board—which manages the city’s sewer system—reviews March financial statements and invoices, including from the sewer/stormwater separation project.

Council meets at the Phil Gainer Community Center at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, the day when all West Virginia cities and counties must “lay the levy,” or finalize adoption of their budgets for fiscal year 2022. Also on the agenda are recognition of Elkins Fire Department Chief Tom Meader, the swearing in of two new firefighters, the promotion of two senior firefighters, and the presentation of a draft framework for planning the use of American Rescue Plan Act funds.

Council’s Municipal Properties Committee meets Wednesday at 9 a.m. for agenda items including the Elkins Main Street Streetscape plan, a request to change traffic patterns on Gorman Avenue, downtown parking, tree grates, repairs to Darden House, and prospects for installing a generator for city hall.

The Elkins Tree Board and Elkins Friends of Trees are participating in an Earth Day Celebration being held in City Park on Thursday, 4:30-6:30 p.m. The event will feature tree giveaways, crafting for children, and other exhibits and activities.

Utility bills and in-city fire-protection service fees are due Monday. First quarter B&O tax returns are due April 30.

All of this week’s meetings are in person at city hall, in the council chamber, except for the council meeting, which will be held in person at the Phil Gainer Community Center.

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Street Sweeping Starts Monday

Street sweeper parking enforcement starts May 3

Elkins, W. Va., April 16, 2021: The Elkins street-sweeping season begins Monday. All property owners and residents are asked to review the 2021 Street Sweeper Schedule to learn when vehicles must be moved so as not to obstruct the street sweeper. (Or access an interactive map here.) Starting Monday, May 3, city police will ticket vehicles left parked on streets scheduled for street sweeping.

Elkins sweeps streets Monday-Friday during the spring, summer, and fall, visiting each street once per week. The purpose of the program is to reduce the amount of litter and debris on city streets, both to reduce strain on the wastewater treatment plant and to maintain a visually attractive streetscape.

Notification of cancelled street-sweeper runs will be issued when possible. However, when the sweeper route is cut short due to mechanical problems, inclement weather, operator emergencies, or other factors beyond our control, it is not always possible to issue such notifications. The best practice is to establish a routine of moving vehicles on the appointed day and continue that practice weekly until the end of sweeper season.

For schedule and other information: www.bit.ly/ElkinsStreetSweeper.

Please contact the Operations Department with questions: 304-636-1414, Ext. 1437 ; spoe@cityofelkinswv.com.

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City Hall News: Week of April 12, 2021

Elkins, W. Va., April 10, 2021: Council’s regular meeting has been postponed to Tuesday, April 20. Meeting this week are council’s Public Safety Committee, Personnel Committee, and Rules & Ordinances Committee.

On Monday at 10 a.m., the Public Safety Committee will hear reports from city public safety officials and continue discussions of public complaints about the property at 898 Cole Avenue. The committee has announced that it will continue to meet second Mondays at 10 a.m.

Later Monday, at 1 p.m., the Personnel Committee will discuss personnel policy and consider a personnel matter in the Elkins Fire Department.

On Wednesday at noon, in a meeting that was postponed from last week for lack of a quorum, the Rules & Ordinances Committee will consider dissolving the city’s Enforcement Agency. This action was recommended by the mayor’s ad hoc Committee on Boards and Commissions because the Enforcement Agency has not met in several years and its responsibilities have shifted to full-time public safety employees and council’s Public Safety Committee.

Also on the Rules & Ordinances agenda are proposed changes to the Firefighters Civil Service Commission rules and possible amendments to the ordinance that established the Elkins Tree Board.

The Elkins Planning Commission meets virtually on Thursday at 1 p.m. to continue work on a new zoning ordinance, a project that began in 2016 and is planned for completion in 2021. Agenda items include rules related to telecommunications infrastructure and the boundaries of the Central Business District zone. Login info here: www.cityofelkinswv.com/council-and-committee-meetings

Council’s regular second meeting of the month, which would normally occur on Thursday, has been postponed to Tuesday, April 20, the date on which all West Virginia city councils and county commissions are required to finalize their budgets for the 2022 fiscal year, which begins July 1. The April 20 meeting will be held at the Phil Gainer Community Center.

All of this week’s meetings will be held in person in council chambers at Elkins City Hall (401 Davis Avenue), unless otherwise stated. Agendas may be adjusted until two business days before meetings.

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Mayor Announces New Committees, Committee Memberships

Establishes Ad Hoc Collaboration and Marketing Committee and Addiction and Homeless Resources Task Force

Elkins, W. Va., April 7, 2021: Mayor Jerry Marco has made changes to Elkins council committee memberships and announced the formation of a new ad hoc Collaboration and Marketing Committee and a new inter-agency Addiction and Homeless Resources Task Force.

Under the new city charter adopted by council last year, Elkins mayors are granted authority to decide the membership of council’s standing committees and may also establish and appoint members of ad hoc committees. By longstanding custom, committee memberships are typically updated immediately following the city’s biannual elections.

Mayor Marco explained that the purpose of the new Collaboration and Marketing Committee is to further strengthen lines of communication between city officials and other agencies, organizations, and stakeholders in the Elkins community. Committee members will be charged with reducing duplication of efforts and increasing collaboration communitywide toward a goal of making Elkins even more appealing and attractive to new residents and businesses. Appointed to this committee are Councilors Charles S. Friddle, III; Nanci Bross-Fregonara; Clint Higgins; and Linda Vest.

The Addiction and Homeless Resources Task Force will consist of one council member, the chief of the Elkins Police Department, and the Randolph County sheriff. There will be at least four citizen members, as well. This body will also look for opportunities to reduce duplication of efforts, but specifically in the areas of addiction and homelessness prevention and response. According to Marco, task force members will seek and share information about available strategies and resources, as well as identifying and advocating for needed new resources.

Prior to adoption of the new charter, there were five standing council committees, and these are now stipulated as permanent: Finance, Rules & Ordinances, Municipal Properties, Public Safety, and Personnel. The table below shows the previous and new membership of each.

Committee Previous Membership New Membership
Finance Charles Friddle, III (chair)
Carman Metheny
Marilynn Cuonzo
Mike Hinchman (chair)
Rob Chenoweth
Christopher Lowther
Rules & Ordinances Linda Vest (chair)
Mike Hinchman
Rob Chenoweth
Nanci Bross-Fregonara (chair)
Clint Higgins
Marilynn Cuonzo
Municipal Properties Marilynn Cuonzo (chair)
Christopher Lowther
Karen Wilmoth
Marilynn Cuonzo (chair)
Charles Friddle, III
Judy Guye
Public Safety David Parker (chair)
Linda Vest
Mike Hinchman
David Parker (chair)
Judy Guye
Mike Hinchman
Personnel Carman Metheny (chair)
David Parker
Judy Guye
Rob Chenoweth (chair)
Linda Vest
Christopher Lowther

 

The Finance Committee has announced that it will continue to meet first Mondays at 10 a.m. Public Safety will continue to meet second Mondays at 10 a.m. The other committees have not yet announced the dates/times of their regular meetings.

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EPD Statement Regarding Missing Child

From Chief Travis Bennett:

The Elkins Police Department and other area law enforcement agencies responded this morning to a report of a 4-year-old boy missing from his mother’s residence. Resources deployed for the search included K9s from the Randolph County Sheriff’s Office and the W. Va. Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, as well as the EPD drone. Citizens also assisted by reporting sightings.

The child was located approximately one mile from the residence. He appeared to have suffered minor abrasions and was transported to Davis Medical Center for evaluation. The incident is under investigation by EPD.

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City Hall News: Week of April 5, 2021

Elkins, W. Va., April 3, 2021: New councilors and a new mayor settle into their roles this week. Council’s Finance Committee meets Monday, the Elkins Tree Board meets Tuesday, and the Rules & Ordinances Committee meets Thursday.

Meeting Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. in the Darden House (next to city hall), the Elkins Tree Board will plan the transfer of plants from the city hall parking lot, discuss board membership and duties, and strategize upcoming tree plantings.

On Monday at 10 a.m., the Finance Committee will discuss American Rescue Plan Act funds and hear proposed FY 2021 budget adjustments.

The Rules & Ordinances Committee meets Thursday at noon to discuss the future of the Enforcement Agency, which was recommended for elimination by the Mayor’s Ad Hoc Committee on Boards and Commissions. The Enforcement Agency has not met in several years as its responsibilities have shifted to full-time public safety employees and council’s Public Safety Committee.

The Elkins Municipal Court is referring overdue accounts to collections. Anyone with past due court costs, fines, or other payments owing should contact the court clerk to discuss options: (304) 636-1414, ext. 1529.

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Elkins Announces New GIS Department

Elkins, W. Va., March 31, 2021: The establishment of a new department within the Elkins city government will enable City of Elkins to take even better advantage of modern digital tools and techniques for analyzing and presenting important data. Ben Martin, formerly an AmeriCorps member working with Elkins Main Street, has been hired as the city’s first Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technician and the sole member of the city’s new GIS Department.

The term GIS refers to specialized hardware, software, and personnel organized for the purpose of gathering, managing, and analyzing data with geospatial components. Most associated with the field of geography, GIS combines non-spatial data, such as demographics, records, or other details, with a spatial component, such as an address, coordinate, or boundary. Adding a spatial component to data allows GIS technicians to perform a range of analyses to better understand how data is related, where those relationships exist in the world around us, and what insights can be obtained from these relationships.

“While GIS tools help collect and discover new insights into data, GIS is most well-known for the ability to produce maps, and for good reason,” said Martin. “Without accurate, easily understood maps, the most profound insights from data won’t be visible to the end user. A lot of the efficiencies from GIS in local government come from being able to share information effectively with the public, elected officials, and city employees, and maps are a great tool for doing so.”

Indeed, one of the first priorities for the new department will involve mapping, specifically to capture the huge amount of infrastructure information that is currently recorded only on old paper maps and in the heads of longtime city employees.

“Right now, we have to rely more than we want to on human memory when it comes to locating key pieces of underground infrastructure,” says Bob Pingley, the city’s operations manager. “It will be a big step forward to be able to start systematically mapping all of that so that all city departments can access the information.”

The GIS technician will also collect data on new infrastructure components, such as the replacement remote-read water meters currently being installed citywide, as they go into the ground.

“The value of having every one of these water meters in a GIS database is not just being able to see them on a map and locate them more easily in the field, it’s being able to easily access information about each one, like its installation date, maintenance history, and other details that can save our crews time troubleshooting problems or making maintenance decisions,” Pingley says. “That’s just one of many examples of how GIS can help us by centralizing information in one easy-to-access place.”

Other high-priority projects for the GIS Department include managing the public-facing dilapidated properties dashboard that will come online during 2021 and coordinating sharing city address information with county E911 and addressing officials. GIS solutions can also help improve interdepartmental data sharing, support timesaving use of mobile devices in the field and enable streamlined communication between citizens and government officials.

Martin has already begun deploying GIS applications on the city’s GIS homepage (coewv.maps.arcgis.com).

“As quick demo projects, we’ve put up apps for exploring results from the 2019 and 2021 city elections, as well as a dashboard to help city residents figure out what ward they’re in for Spring Cleanup,” says Martin. “These are just simple first steps, but they give a taste of what GIS can do for Elkins. I’m really excited about building out these offerings and seeing what Elkins can accomplish with GIS tools.”

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Mayor Lifts State of Emergency

In an order effective April 1, Mayor Van Broughton is lifting the citywide state of emergency he declared last spring in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Mayor Broughton’s March 17, 2020 citywide emergency declaration did not impose any restrictions on the public and mainly served to enable more flexible internal decision-making within the city government.

With infections surging in some states and barely more than half of West Virginia counties designated as “green” on the W. Va. DHHR County Alert System map, the end of the state of emergency does not signal the end of the pandemic. City of Elkins has no immediate plans to alter current precautions, including requirements for face coverings and social distancing. Council meetings will continue to be held at the Phil Gainer Community Center through April.

After the declaration of the citywide state of emergency, the only public-facing order subsequently issued by Mayor Broughton was a temporary ban on yard sales and door-to-door solicitation. This ban was lifted on May 15, 2020.

Using his powers under the emergency declaration, the mayor ordered several modifications to the city’s internal personnel policies that remain in effect: a COVID-19 Emergency Leave Policy, an Extended COVID-19 Emergency Leave Policy, and a COVID-19 Vaccination Policy. His suspension of a city policy that would have required call-out pay for all work performed by city employees during this state of emergency also expires as of April 1.

Mayors are granted authority for emergency declarations under West Virginia Code 15-5-1. The mayor’s proclamation ending this state of emergency has been posted online and at city hall. It will also be transmitted to the governor’s office and to the office of the Randolph County Commission.

A scan of the signed proclamation ending the state of emergency may be viewed by clicking here.

 

 

 

 

City Hall News: Week of March 29, 2021

Elkins, W. Va., March 27, 2021: Council meets Wednesday, when newly elected officials will also take their oaths of office. Council’s Economic Growth and Development (EGAD) Committee meets Thursday, and city hall is closed Friday.

Council meets Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Phil Gainer Community Center. The agenda may be adjusted through Monday. Current agenda items include appointments to the newly established water board, establishment of a separate fund and bank account for American Rescue Plan Act funds, and a request to waive B&O taxes for the city hall parking lot project. The winning candidates from the 2021 election, who take office Thursday, April 1, will be sworn in after the meeting.

B&O tax return forms will be mailed to city business-license holders on Wednesday. Returns are due by April 30.

On Thursday, restrooms at city parks open for the season and, at 5 p.m., the EGAD Committee meets at city hall to discuss annexations and incentives for new businesses.

City hall is closed Friday in observance of Good Friday. Trash will be picked up as usual.

Spring Cleanup 2021 will occur on the following schedule: First Ward, April 5-6; Second Ward, April 7-8; Third Ward, April 9 & 12; Fourth Ward, April 13-14; Fifth Ward, April 15-16. This service is for residences, not businesses. Appliances, tires, free flowing liquids, batteries, and yard waste will not be accepted. Learn more here: www.cityofelkinswv.com/spring-cleanup-dates-announced.

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