|By James Draper, Kilgore News Herald, Texas|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
The operation's primary fire engine has reportedly been sold to one of its board members, and he currently employs the organization's former fire chief. A second fire engine was delivered on Monday to one of the folding agency's primary contributors -- apparently unusable, the truck is worth a fraction of the local philanthropist's funding for the department.
Meanwhile, much of LCFR's equipment, records and other inventory is locked-down in the former fire station at
At least one of the department's board members says the closing of the operation comes as a surprise. Another is working with the former chief -- who reportedly resigned in mid-March -- to dispose of the group's assets amid conflict information about the closing of the department.
The doors are locked, chained from the inside, at
Officially established in
Leasing a shell building on
After spearheading the start-up for about a year-and a-half,
"I've been resigned for a while now. It's been almost a month," Crutcher said Monday, citing time constraints from another job as well as the hard-slog of creating the department, which was never dispatched to a fire. "I got a good job ... My goal when they asked me to get involved was to better our community. I don't wanna play politics."
Crutcher maintains he is no longer a part of the department nor does he have a role in the disposition of its inventory.
"I don't have any responsibility with it. I don't have a clue on how that gets disposed of," he said. "I don't know what they're doing because I'm not involved with it. I resigned and moved on."
Crutcher declined to identify his new place of work and would not speak further about LCFR's closing. His profile at
As of Tuesday, the better of the two fire engines acquired by
Gothard could not be reached for comment at Fire In Texas Tuesday -- he is reportedly out of the office in
Though Crutcher is officially resigned,
"He has resigned so he is no longer handling anything at this point," she said. The second truck was sold to Gothard, Fleming explained, to pay off the department's lingering utility bills -- electricity, phone, water, etc. "It paid off the bills. There's paperwork showing what was sold on that truck and what was raised on that truck.
Fleming did not have the paperwork on hand Monday and did not detail the sale price but said the proceeds coincide with the billables.
"(Crutcher) did handle that. What money that came in, it was spent on specific items."
Fleming confirmed LCFR "is in the process of being dissolved" but said she could not comment on the department's finances -- citing the lockdown at the fire station -- nor does she have an inventory of the equipment left inside.
"The department has no money. It couldn't sustain itself because it was never able to be dispatched on calls, so it was never able to get off the ground," she explained. "We also cannot get access to anything that is in the building at this point ... Rent has not been caught up on the building. Everything that is in the building (the property owner) has taken possession of until the rent is paid."
According to Rodriguez, he let the start-up operation use the facility rent-free for the first six months, beginning in
Following that period, he explained, there's been no rent payments the past four months: the group owes
"It was just one of those deals -- I was trying to be nice to them," Rodriguez said Monday. He took action, locking down the building, when he saw the group was closing shop in recent weeks. "They started pulling trucks out and I said, 'Uh-oh, I gotta do something before I get left behind.
"What they told me, as soon as they sold the truck they were going to come out here and pay me my rent ... The chief came out here (Sunday) morning and left me the key. Everybody had a key."
Until the rent is paid, the building stays closed -- the front doors are chained and a piece of wood is in place for added security; Rodriguez changed the locks on the back door. He's leaving the current items inside as-is.
"I don't want to touch somebody else's stuff unless I'm ready for it," he said.
"That stuff in there, it's got to be worth something for whoever knows what it is."
"It will be picked up in the morning" on Wednesday, Richardson confirmed.
For example, he said, the
"They came to the county," Cerliano said. "We're just trying to make an inquiry at this point to determine what has occurred."
Regarding the fire engines, "We know the location of those two vehicles," Cerliano confirmed. "One was apparently sold: we've identified who it was sold to (Gothard), we haven't determined the sale price."
Gothard has offered to provide the title to the vehicle to verify the purchase, Cerliano noted. GCSO has also contacted Rodriguez about the remaining equipment -- whether or not the inventory in the fire station can be sold depends on the lease agreement, Cerliano said.
As of press time, the
While the department's primary engine was reportedly sold to Gothard and transported to
According to records at publicsurplus.com, LCFR personnel acquired that 1992 Spartan Pumper Fire Apparatus from the
Listed for sale on various Web sites earlier this year, LCFR failed to sell the vehicle at the asking price -- numerous bids on
"If anybody bought it, it would have to be sight-unseen," according to
Following Crutcher's delivery, Clements donated the truck to
"It's in poor condition. The chassis is rusted out all the way around it. The interior of the vehicle's pretty damaged. The pump system won't pass a pump test. It's actually been dismantled," he said. "It's got some rear damage where it's been backed into something."
As it is, the truck is unusable, Sisk said.
"I'm working with
Though LCFR's records are currently inaccessible, according to Shaver his employer was one of the largest contributors toward establishing the organization -- in addition to giving cash in excess of
That truck is now in
In the beginning, "He had asked them, if they went out of business to return the assets to him so he could distribute them to qualifying 501(c)3s that needed the assistance, other fire departments probably," Shaver explained. Hearing of the department's looming demise, the attorney says he sent a letter to the department, "If you see that it's not going to work out, please return the assets to us so we can distribute them to somebody on behalf of
Shaver estimates the value of the Spartan apparatus at less than 10 percent of Clements' total contribution. There was one out-ofdate set of bunker gear in the vehicle.
"That's all I know was returned, but it's worthless -- it can't be used," he said. "I will tell you C.W. said he was going to contact three members of the
Donating the Spartan apparatus to SVFD, Clements and Energy Weldfab are out of the equation, Shaver said.
"The law is that they're supposed to pay their bills and then distribute their assets to qualified 501(c)3 entities. We were just trying to help in that process."
According to Crutcher, he resigned in March and the LCFR board followed suit -- both details came as a surprise to LCFR board member Chris Cline Monday afternoon.
"You tell me he's resigned, that's news to me. I haven't talked to any of the other board members," Cline said, noting the group's by-laws require they meet once per year. He was unable to recall the last time the full board gathered.
Likewise, Cline said he was unaware any board members had resigned.
"That's news to me," he said. "I don't have any more (information) about it ... I don't have any comment at this time because I don't have anything to comment on."
LCFR board member
Noting the accessible equipment is being sold to pay the bills,
"The decision was just made to go ahead and dissolve. If it can't be dispatched, then what can a fire department do?" Fleming said. The assets -- vehicles and other equipment -- are being dealt with. "We're in the process of working with some of the other contributors to try and get that stuff squared away."
Unable to secure a dispatch relationship with a nearby department, it could not hold on with limited, dwindling funding, she added.
"It just seemed like we didn't have enough pull ... It's a small community," Fleming said, frustrated the start-up drew opposition. "I don't understand where the conflict and the brick walls kept being put up.
"Why is it so hard to think we could have two fire departments to protect our homes, wrecks, our people? That's what I don't understand.
"It was already paid for by members of the community to be put into service and help protect the community it's in already," Sisk said. "... It's just puts another bad taste in the citizens' mouths that have been around here for a long time. It's just really unfortunate."
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