Sholten Singer/The Herald-Dispatch Fire Chief Jan Rader, center, joins Mayor Steve Williams, right, and Deputy Chief Ray Canafax to discuss the external review report of the Huntington Fire Department during a press conference on Friday, Aug. 2, 2019, at Huntington City Hall.

The investigative report into the causes of equipment problems within the Huntington Fire Department has been released to the public. People who expected it to name a specific person who should be held accountable for the department's problems will be disappointed.

After six months, we are told there were problems but it's really no one's fault and the chief needs to delegate responsibilities to people immediately under her in the command structure.

Mayor Steve Williams himself said Friday afternoon that no one will be reprimanded, disciplined or fired because of problems that resulted in a $500,000 boat being idle for more than a year and for a series of failures that left the department without a functioning ladder truck for a few days earlier this year.

Williams called for an independent investigation back in February after two ladder trucks broke down, leaving the city to rely on ladder trucks from nearby volunteer departments. The state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety conducted the investigation at no cost to the city. Its report was delivered to Williams on July 19, and he released it to the public Aug. 2.

The review team made several recommendations, including adopting new policies and procedures, creating a peer-review team and implementing a new command structure that is less reliant on the chief. During a news conference Friday, Chief Jan Rader said she and Deputy Chief Ray Canafax have known the policies and procedures have needed updating.

"Now we are making that our priority," she said. "This has been discussed for years that it needed to be done."

At Friday's news conference, Rader said she had delegated control of fleet maintenance to Canafax in February.

The investigation report also mentioned the strain between the present and former fire chiefs and the rank-and-file firefighters. Rader and Canafax say they will address that, too.

Also at the news conference, Williams said the rescue boat that has been out of service for more than a year will be repaired soon. The cost will be about $200,000, with some of that being paid by insurance. And as of Friday, all the department's trucks were operable and in service.

From the outside looking in, it's hard to believe that the system alone was at fault for the department's problems. That no one person made a single mistake or error in judgment that needs addressing. That no one, from the newest firefighter to the chief to the mayor, is responsible for the condition the department's equipment was in six months ago.

People who grew up in the '60s had a word for that: copout.

Williams, Rader, Canafax and others will address fire department matters internally. Externally, they will have to convince the public that what's past is past and that problems are being solved, even if no person or persons in particular caused them. That will most likely be a harder sell.

What would help would be a followup report in three, six or twelve months about what's been done and what's changed.


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