Chief Joe Miller of the Bramwell Volunteer Fire Department tendered his resignation this week at the Bramwell town council meeting. Miller, 59, cited several concerns in the letter of resignation he submitted to the town and provided a copy of to the Bluefield Daily Telegraph.
Among other things, Miller expressed concerns that only half of the members of the 16-member department have the necessary qualifications to fight fires with the department. “The new law that went (into) effect (Sept. 6, 2013), plainly spells out what must be done to remain in compliance,” Miller wrote in his letter of resignation. “The members (of town council) knew three years ago, but ignored what needed to be done.
“This has exposed the town council and myself to a law suit if one of them gets hurt,” Miller wrote. “I cannot and will not expose myself to that kind of liability.” In addition, Miller, who said that he only stepped down as chief, and did not resign from the fire department, expressed frustration that he effectively lost command of the department members, “when they found out they could go over my head and straight to the mayor.”
Miller said he joined the department in 1969 when he was 15 years old. He said that he even served as chief for a couple of years in the late 1970s, but left the department for a period of time. “I served a total of 30 years,” he said.
“When I took over, we had no money, the trucks were in poor condition and one would not even run,” Miller stated in his letter of resignation. “The men lacked equipment, training and certification. I can honestly say now that the money issues are behind us, new equipment including a new fire truck has been purchased. I can't say the same for certification and training,” he wrote.
Bramwell Mayor Louise Stoker responded to a request for comment on Miller's resignation with the following statement: “On behalf of the citizens of the area served by the Bramwell Volunteer Fire Department, we appreciate the years of service and dedication to our local fire department by William T. Joe Miller,” according to an email. “He will continue to be a respected member of our century-old fire department.”
Miller took over after former Chief James “Jimmy” Carver, who had served 30 years as chief, resigned after pleading guilty in Mercer County Circuit Court in August 2011 to embezzling more than $160,000 from the department during a 5-year period. Prior to that time, Stoker said the town thought its only responsibility was to appoint the chief, but after the situation came to light, she stated that: “I found out, yes, we did have some responsibility to oversee the fire department.”
Steven Sommers, president of the Mercer County Firefighters' Association said that in April 2013 the State Fire Marshal and West Virginia State Fire Commission “created legislative rule” to clarify its general policy statement in terms of equipment and training for personnel. Sommers said that Title 87, Series 8, requires that 100 percent of all active firefighters are required to have Level 1 certification — a certification that requires the completion of a 120-hour course. The chief and assistant chief must hold Level 2 or equivalent certification.
“When the Fire Marshal and Fire Commission created legislative rule, it put teeth in the law and gave the agencies enforcement powers,” Sommers said. “Even at that, the Commission has demonstrated a willingness to give departments an opportunity to get in compliance with the code. The commission does not have to re-certify a department. If that happens, the board of directors and the chief are culpable for debt,” he said.