The silence was deafening Thursday when Andrew Shaw, a longtime Fairview resident, asked a congregation of his neighbors if they supported Fairview Volunteer Fire Department merging with Pembroke Volunteer Fire Department.

When a call for a show of hands was made by Shaw during an informational meeting at the fire department, not a single hand was raised to the sky in support of the proposed merger.

During the meeting, Nick Belair, fire chief of the Pembroke Volunteer Fire Department, presented information regarding the possibility of a merger between the two fire departments. Mike Tino-Cunniffe, Fairview Fire Department Board chairman, also answered questions during the meeting.

"100% of the people here are against the merger. You said if we didn't want it, you would bow out. It's pretty obvious we don't want it. So, bye," Shaw said, shaking Belair's hand. "Pembroke and Fairview will always work together, but right now we need to take back our fire department and restructure it."

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SIX WEEKS AGO

Belair, who assumed the position of fire chief in April, said about six weeks ago he was approached by Tino-Cunniffe and Fairview Volunteer Fire Department's former fire chief Johnny Weaver, who asked if he would be interested in a merger.

"I told them I couldn't answer that truthfully for the fire department, and that No. 1, I would have to think about it and No. 2 we would have to legally figure it out and No. 3 we would have to figure out if our membership even wanted it," Belair said.

During the meeting, Fairview Fire Department board chairwoman Cindy O'Brien said approaching Belair was not a board-approved action. Of the five board members who were elected six months ago, Tino-Cunniffe and O'Brien are the only ones remaining.

Tino-Cunniffe said the three board members left for various reasons including intimidation and bullying.

Belair, who also is a career firefighter with Fort Campbell Fire and Emergency Services, said it took him about six weeks to prepare for the night's informational meeting.

"We decided to get all the facts together and present them to the public and then we would go from there. So that's all I did," he said.

For research purposes, Belair contacted the Insurance Services Organization company, county judge executive, county attorney, Kentucky Fire Commission and Pembroke Volunteer Fire Department's bank, BB&T.

"I also had to ask our members here at the fire department because that's how we do things here," he said. "I told the Fairview Volunteer Fire Department I would give them 110% and that's what I did tonight. I did all the research, and I gave them all the facts because I wanted to ensure I was giving them the right information and I was doing the right thing."

In the six weeks he spent conducting research about a possible merger, Belair said rumors and misinformation about the possibility spread like wildfire.

"There was nothing going on behind closed doors. I'm not going to have a meeting though if I can't answer questions," he said. "That's why it took a month and a half ... getting to all those individuals and making sure we are doing the right thing."

THE INFORMATION

"Folks, there has been a lot of speculation, questions and misinformation that is going on throughout the community," Tino-Cunniffe said. "I hope tonight that once you see the presentation you will understand what is intended, what it is all about and what a merger would actually entail."

"All of this did not happen overnight," Tino-Cunniffe added. "Fairview has ongoing issues and problems."

During the meeting, Belair explained the goals of the merger, should it take place. He said the primary goal would be to ensure adequate response times and personnel for emergencies. This would "increase public safety, firefighter safety and increase our ability to preserve property," according to a slide from his PowerPoint presentation.

Another goal would be to work toward lowering the current Insurance Service Organization rating. The ISO rating, or fire score, is a rating that determines how well a community's local fire department can protect the community and its homes, Belair explained. Currently, Pembroke and Fairview both have a 6 rating.

The merger also would increase grant potential for certain projects because the departments would be serving a larger area and population, according to information collected by Belair from Vickers Consulting Services.

While researching the potential, BB&T informed Belair there are potential financial savings associated with merging the two departments.

Other priorities would include the development of a First Responder Program, which would allow for an increase in response times for medical emergencies. As of June 5, Fairview Fire Department's First Responder Program was not recognized per Patsy Bell, Hopkinsville Fire Department secretary. Six certified first responders volunteer with Pembroke Volunteer Fire Department. Pembroke Fire Volunteer Department volunteers also are all CPR and First Aid certified.

Should the merger take place, all members would be Occupational Safety and Health Administration compliant. Other goals also include increasing dues paying members through "fire-prevention measures, community programs and proactive information," according to the slide.

"At the end of the day, none of this is just for the Fairview Volunteer Fire Department or the Pembroke Volunteer Fire Department, it's for the community," Belair said. "I wanted to make sure I got the facts for (the Fairview community). Now what they do with those facts, that's up to them."

COMMUNITY'S QUESTIONS

After Belair's presentation, community members were invited to ask questions. Before asking their question, each person was asked to announce their name and where they are from. During the question and answer session, dozens of people -- many who live mere miles from the Fairview Volunteer Fire Department -- expressed their concern and hatred for the merger.

During the session, a woman from Todd County who serves as a Fairview firefighter asked if anyone official could definitively say how many certified firefighters volunteer with the department.

At first, O'Brien said she "had a list with 30 people's names on it."

However, Tino-Cunniffe disagreed.

"We do not have 30 on this fire department right now," Tino-Cunniffe said. "I can tell you that right now. We do not."

Community members also asked questions about equipment. Belair said each fire department's equipment would "not be moved." If the merger were to take place, a full inventory would be taken and each department would sign a contract with the Kentucky Fire Commission regarding the equipment, he said.

Questions about Fairview Volunteer Fire Department's financial stability also came to light.

Tino-Cunniffe announced Fairview Volunteer Fire Department is $70,000 in debt, according to the department's recent financial records.

"The department is totally dependent upon the state aid money that comes in, in order to meet that debt. That's what they have been using," Tino-Cunniffe said. "If you don't have the firefighters on the route, if you don't have the certifications there, it's going to affect your overall state aid. All of that comes down from the Kentucky Fire Commission."

As the question-and-answer session came to a close, Robby Stokes, a lifetime Fairview resident, stepped forward to thank Belair for providing the information, but stated he wasn't in favor of the merger.

"This is our community fire department. We can't support our department if we merge. Everybody needs to stand up and take a more active role. All these problems that are going on, we need to solve them as a community," Stokes said. "Kicking the ball to Pembroke ain't going to solve nothing. That's just us making it someone else's problem."

Stokes acknowledged in the past he has not been actively engaged with the Fairview Volunteer Fire Department.

"Moving forward though, I'm going to take a more active role because obviously someone has to. We are going to have to pull together as a community," Stokes said.

Stokes called on his fellow community members and neighbors to show more interest in the department.

"If we want to keep what we've got, the community needs to step up," he said. "It's plain and simple."

UNSANCTIONED MEETING

Following the informational meeting, a group of community members held a meeting, which according to the department's bylaws, was unsanctioned, Tino-Cunniffe said. All decisions must be made by the board.

Because the board is not complete, Tino-Cunniffe's mission is to fill those expired board seats as quickly as possible, he said. Without enough board members, there is not a quorum. This means decisions cannot be made.

During the unsanctioned meeting, it was determined Capt. Travis Martin will serve as interim fire chief until a new one is appointed, according to a WHOP report. During the unsanctioned meeting, it also was announced a second meeting is slated for 7 p.m. Friday at the Fairview Volunteer Fire Department, 10960 Jefferson Davis Highway, Pembroke.

During next week's scheduled unsanctioned meeting, a vote will allegedly take place to dissolve the current board and create a new one, according to a WHOP report.

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