Nicholas County residents won't go without protection after firefighter resignations, official says

CARLISLE — There will be no lapse in protection after all 13 members of the Nicholas County Fire Department resigned in a dispute with its board, officials said Friday.

The volunteer firefighters turned in their resignations Thursday night after the board hired a new chief. Five of the seven fire board members also resigned.

The Carlisle Fire Department, which has 20 volunteer members, will respond to fires in the city and county, said Chief Jim Biddle.

"We're prepared to go if we need to," Biddle said.

He added: "I talked to one taxpayer who was concerned. He said, 'What if my house catches on fire tonight?' I said, 'The city will be there.'"

The city department is filling in as part of an executive order signed by county Judge-Executive Kenneth Lyons. Nicholas County has a total population of 7,135, according to the 2010 Census.

In an emergency meeting Friday morning, Nicholas Fiscal Court appointed four new members to the fire district board, County Attorney Dawn Curran Letcher said.

But what happens from this point on is anyone's guess. The firefighters' resignations don't take effect until the board accepts them, so theoretically those who quit could return if they wish and if the board will have them back.

Letcher outlined several possible outcomes.

"Either some or all of the former firefighters will return and take up business as usual, or perhaps new ones will come in to be trained, or perhaps they (the board) will contract the services out," Letcher said Friday.

There has even been talk of a possible merger of the city and county fire departments, Letcher said, but the level of support for that is unclear.

The firefighter resignations came after Doug French's appointment as county chief, and as the result of tensions that have brewed for several months. French succeeds acting co-chiefs Mike Phillips and Matt Hughes. They had been in charge since the board removed Mark Hughes, brother of Matt Hughes, after a hearing in February.

Biddle, the city chief, said it was his understanding that the county firefighters resigned because they don't want him French as chief.

Upon the resignation of the firefighters, county fire board members Mike Smith, Jimmy Price, Arnold Payne and Al Warner resigned, Letcher said. French also resigned from the board because he could not be a board member and chief simultaneously, Letcher said.

At its Friday morning meeting, the fiscal court appointed Jay Morford, Steve Widell, Johnny Parton and Cameron Crawford to the fire district board, Letcher said. They will join Doug McCord and Ronnie Clark.

Biddle has been chief of the city department since October but he was assistant chief for 12 years.

"I've never seen anything like this before," he said.