HUNTINGTON — Improper maintenance of the Huntington Fire Department's equipment could not be attributed to one individual and was caused by a "series of failures," an independent review has found.
A team formed by the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety (DMAPS) conducted a review of the fire department at the request of Mayor Steve Williams, who was responding to several equipment and fire apparatus breakdowns earlier this year. The review was released to the city July 19 and given to media outlets Friday.
Despite equipment failures, the review team said the Huntington Fire Department continually answered calls and performed their duties "at the highest level."
The team noted management relationships between past and current chiefs and firefighters they oversee are strained and "have been an issue for many years."
However, Fire Chief Jan Rader and Deputy Chief Ray Canafax "advised the team that (they) are both extremely committed to the safety of the Huntington firefighters and the citizens of Huntington."
"I am encouraged this is something we can put the problems of our past behind us and we can move forward," Williams said Friday. "I am even more encouraged that in the midst of all this, our firefighters have met the purpose for why they are hired — protecting the citizens of Huntington. We are proud of that."
The review team made several recommendations, including adopting new policies and procedures, creating a peer-re-
view team and implementing a new command structure that is less reliant on the chief. During a news conference Friday, Rader said she and Canafax have known the policies and procedures have needed updating, even before she was chief, but other matters had taken precedent. Rader said she was glad the report brought it to light.
"Now we are making that our priority," she said. "This has been discussed for years that it needed to be done."
In February, Williams called for an independent investigation after two ladder trucks broke down, which raised safety concerns among firefighters and area citizens. One of those trucks was found to have improper fluid levels. A fire rescue boat also has been out of operation since May 2018, more than 12 months after it had been inspected for possible repair.
After calling for the review, Williams reached out to DMAPS Secretary Jeff Sandy to form a team to look into the issues. On Friday, Williams thanked Gov. Jim Justice for allowing Sandy to conduct the review at no cost to the city.
The six-person team consisted of: Sandy; Thom Kirk, deputy secretary and DMAPS general counsel; Jennifer Wilson, DMAPS assistant general counsel; Brian Jones, president of the Professional Firefighters of West Virginia; Elaine Harris, union representative of the Communications Workers of America International; and West Virginia State Fire Marshal Ken Tyree.
In regard to the "series of failures" related to improper maintenance of equipment, the review team cited outdated departmental policies and procedures that didn't spell out who is responsible of overseeing maintenance of assets. The policies and procedures also failed to delegate "duties from the chief to the newest member."
The review recommended adopting modern, comprehensive policies and procedures. Jones and Tyree said they will help the city research and adopt those policies, according to the review. The team found the department's current command structure is "a flat line with the chief responsible to address all the department leaders with no intermediaries."
"Therefore, the (department's) success depends on 100% involvement of the chief," according to the review.
It's recommended the fire department adopt a command structure similar to Hamden, Connecticut, which has a population of 60,000 people.
An organization chart provided in the review illustrates Hamden's fire chief delegating duties to the deputy chief, who then delegates duties to other management personnel, including fire station captains.
"No matter what command structure the fire department uses, the chief needs to empower the upper management of the department, and by doing so, the upper management will be required to take ownership and be held accountable for the actions of themselves and their subordinates," according to the review.
Rader said some of this has already happened, with her delegating control of fleet maintenance to Canafax in February.
Per the report's recommendations, the department will form a peer-review team made up of professional firefighters. The peer-review team will be jointly chaired by Tyree and Jones and would make additional recommendations to the mayor.
Rader said she isn't going to set a timeline for completion of the policy review because she wants to get it right, but she doesn't want it to take too long, either.
The review did not make specific recommendations about how to improve a strained relationship between chiefs and firefighters. It recommended the department answer a questionnaire with 24 questions. Questions address the department's goals and objectives, apparatus/equipment replacement programs and identifying potential department weaknesses.
Rader said she and Canafax have been working together for months discussing how to improve the relationships and communication within the department, but they weren't ready to share their plans just yet.
"We plan on giving our command staff a voice and we need to make sure that everybody has a voice, but we also have to work together even when we do disagree," she said.
Canafax said he and Rader have worked together for many years, but they have reaffirmed their commitment to each other and their firefighters.
During the news conference, Williams highlighted the fact the report did not find the department had a lack of resources, with City Council Chairman Mark Bates adding the city has given the department its biggest budget in the past two years with commitments to purchasing a new truck each year.
As of Friday afternoon, the entire fleet with the exception of Marine One was in operation. Rader said it will cost $200,000 to fix Marine One, which will be paid for through insurance and the department's budget.
HUNTINGTON — Google's Grow with Google initiative visited the Cabell County Public Library in Huntington on Friday to host public digital skills workshops and one-on-one training sessions with Google staff and librarians at no cost for interested individuals.
Grow with Google is an initiative aiming to assist job-seekers, small-business owners, entrepreneurs and any other members of the public interested in improving their digital skills, especially relating to the use of data analytics and online business presence.
"Here in Huntington, we seek to set standards that the rest of the nation will follow," Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said.
"As we embark into this technological revolution, we know our competition is no longer down the road, but across the world. Because of this partnership with Google, we will not be left behind."
One specific goal of the tour is to help bridge the digital skills gap dividing certain Americans across the modern workforce.
According to a recent study by Burning Glass Technologies and Capital One, more than 80% of "middle-skill" jobs in America require workers to possess various digital skills. Furthermore, the National Middle Skills Initiative estimates about 57% of West Virginia's workforce is comprised of workers of such jobs.
This year, Google also reported that more than 2,000 businesses, publishers and nonprofits in West Virginia utilize Google's search and advertising tools to expand their services throughout local communities, contributing to about $222 million worth of economic activity.
"We're excited to bring the national Grow with Google tour to West Virginia and ... here in Huntington," Beanca Nicholson, spokeswoman for Grow with Google, said. "Over the course of the day, we helped more than 100 people learn new skills that are critical in today's digital economy. And, to extend the impact of today's event, we trained employees of libraries, schools and nonprofits across the region so that they can share these free resources with their communities going forward."
One of those participants Friday was Emily Hammond, who does communication for the state's Department of Commerce.
"We learned a bit about search engine optimization, making sure that your website content is organized enough that Google can crawl it efficiently, so your information comes up when users conduct searches," Hammond said. "This is really important. Google is the No. 1 search engine and everyone uses it, so you have to make sure your business is being found."
According to Google's support services, crawling is defined as "the process by which Googlebot discovers new and updated pages to be added to the Google index."
Hammond said some of the skills she learned Friday also will help business owners like her father with advertising for their businesses, including her father's small law firm in West Virginia, which she helps with as well.
"He needs to be able to make sure people are coming to his business and that people are aware of his services so he can make money," she said. "That is the ultimate goal of a business: to provide service, make money and ensure you can feed yourself at the end of the day."
Last year, Google invested $5 million in micro-grants to libraries across America via its partnership with the American Library Association. Starting Monday, local libraries across the state can apply for funding to establish or enhance their own programs aimed at increasing digital skills proficiency.
CATLETTSBURG, Ky. — Family members of Michael Moore, an inmate who died at the Boyd County Detention Center last year, will receive $1.75 million as part of an out-of-court settlement reached earlier this week.
As part of the agreement with the Kentucky Association of Counties All Lines Fund, the insurance carrier for Boyd County, a flower box with a memorial plaque will also be constructed and maintained outside the detention center in honor of the victim, who was found dead Nov. 29, 2018, in the jail's restraint chair.
Moore, 40, who was arrested for public intoxication, had been jailed for 36 hours before his death. He had arrived at the jail highly intoxicated, which led to his confinement in the restraint chair for more than 20 hours. An autopsy could not rule out criminal activity as a contributing factor to his death.
Jeffrey Kelley, a state police detective investigating the death of Moore, said the man sustained several broken ribs that caused internal bleeding, which led to his death. The Kentucky State Police found five correction officers had allegedly intentionally abused Moore or knowingly permitted the abuse prior to his death.
Cases remain pending against Zackary Messer, of Ashland; Brad Roberts, of Westwood, Kentucky; Colton Griffith, of Flatwoods, Kentucky; and Jeremy Mattox, of Grayson, Kentucky, who are all charged with first-degree manslaughter.
Alicia Beller, of Putnam County, West Virginia, pleaded guilty to wanton endangerment in the first degree in the case earlier this year and a five-year prison sentence was diverted for five years in exchange for her testimony against her co-defendants.
The Kentucky State Police believe the five allegedly either intentionally abused or knowingly permitted the abuse of Moore, leading to his death.
Jailer Joe Burchett resigned in early December after Moore and another inmate, Charles Shaun Finley, 36, died within four days of each other. Finley had been jailed for three weeks before his death. There have been a number of problems at the jail in the past two years, including a riot and escapes.
Burchett served as jailer for 16 years and was replaced by county jailer-elect William Hensley, who was asked to fill the position a month before his term was to start.
As part of the settlement, the family will release all future claims against the facility related to Moore's death.
"The Estate agrees that neither the payment, nor the fact of this agreement, constitutes an admission of any liability, violation of law or wrongdoing of any kind or nature whatsoever on behalf of Boyd County," the document said.
According to a document provided to The Herald-Dispatch, the settlement was reached to avoid the costs of attorney fees, litigation costs and delays associated with a court case.
Follow reporter Courtney Hessler at Facebook.com/CHesslerHD and via Twitter @HesslerHD.
HUNTINGTON — Tickets for the Autumn Colors Express excursion train running from Huntington to Hinton during the last weekend of October will go on sale Monday, with prices ranging from $149 to $599 per person, the company organizing the trains said Friday.
Rail Excursion Management Co. said earlier this week that it will operate its Autumn Colors Express three times on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 25-27. The trains will continue the more than 50-year tradition of Hinton's Railroad Days Festival, in which passengers traveled round-trip aboard vintage trains.
Rail Excursion Management follows in the footsteps of the Collis P. Huntington Railroad Historical Society Inc., which said earlier this year it was bankrupted when Amtrak raised the tariffs required to pay for returning passenger cars to Chicago after the society's four 2018 trips.
Those trips ran most years after the first run May 15, 1966.
Tickets will go on sale Monday, Aug. 5, according to the following classes:
• Regular coach class: $149 per person.
• Deluxe coach class: $199 per person.
• Lounge class: $289 per person.
• Private suite class: $309 per person.
• Dome class: $399 per person.
• Chairman class: $599 per person.
Tickets may be ordered by telephone or at the Railexco website, and purchasers will be able to print tickets at home, display them on smartphones or have them delivered by mail. The website is www.railexco.com and the telephone number will be announced Monday when the tickets go on sale, Railexco Chief Marketing Officer Lou Capwell said.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who worked with Railexco and Amtrak to have fall excursion train trips between Huntington and Hinton continue, praised the company.
"The trip from Huntington to Hinton in the fall truly showcases the beauty of West Virginia and brings joy and revenue to our state. ... I look forward to the new Autumn Colors Express and will always support the Railroad Days Festival however I can," Manchin said.
A company official and Hinton's city manager also praised plans for the train trips.
"We are very excited to showcase the beautiful New River Gorge in its fall colors to our passengers," Railexco Chief Executive Officer Adam Auxier said. "I hope they enjoy their journey on these lovingly preserved railcars on their trip to Hinton."
Cris Meadows, Hinton's city manager, said the return of the train means much to Hinton and its residents.
"The annual Railroad Days Festival has brought thousands of people to our town over the years; our local nonprofits operate food and vending tents that in turn provide scholarships to so many of our local students. We're overjoyed that this tradition can keep going year after year," Meadows said.
With the relatively short window to sell tickets, two officials in Huntington said
they have doubts or concerns that the excursion trains will be filled up.
Willard "Skip" Reinhard, president of the Collis P. Huntington Railroad Historical Society, believes it will be difficult to sell enough tickets to fill between 25 and 30 vintage passenger coaches three times in less than three months.
"It's going to be hard, because in order to sell that many tickets, you have to promote heavily to reach the number of people you need to reach," Reinhard said. "For example, by the first of August in any year, we were just about sold out. Our tickets went on sale in January, and by May the premium-service tickets were usually sold out."
Tyson Compton, president of the Huntington Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, also is concerned.
"To be honest, I think it will be a challenge, but the CVB is certainly willing to provide our support," he said. "I think it might be an easier sell because it's over one weekend. But the challenge will be to make up for the loss of bus groups."
Reinhard took exception to a couple of statements made by a Railexco official earlier in the week. One was that the railroad historical society didn't extensively work with the state to promote the excursion trains.
"I've got the bills and copies of stories we sent out to papers all over the state to prove it. We attended travel shows. We worked with bus companies, travel agents and a lot of other people," Reinhard said. "If we hadn't done that, we wouldn't have had close to 5,000 people ride our trains in 2018."
Regarding the officials' contention that Railexco's boxed breakfasts and return-trip snacks would eliminate CPH's "non-revenue dining cars," Reinhard said that "the first-class tickets for premium-service passengers produced the revenue for our dining cars The meals were included; passengers got a total package."
Bob Withers, a lifelong railroad enthusiast and retired reporter and copy editor for The Herald-Dispatch, pastors Seventh Avenue Baptist Church in Huntington.