COPENHAGEN — The question of asset ownership no longer involves just the village and the non-profit Copenhagen Fire Department Inc. A Long Island-based organization that supports fire departments around the country with equipment and training called and they want their transportation van back.
On Feb. 23, village Mayor Mark A. Souva received an email from Brian Farrell, Chairman of the Terry Farrell Firefighter Fund based in Bethpage, asking for help recovering the transportation van given to the Copenhagen Volunteer Fire Department in January 2022.
Mr. Farrell said the van was given to the village’s fire department under terms that require it to be returned if it is not being used for the intended purpose of supporting firefighters and if a department wants to get rid of a vehicle donated by the Terry Fund after it has been used for some time “it must first be offered back to the Fund.”
The chief of the village’s fire department at that time, Terence M. “TJ” Williams, had asked for “a van to benefit our department,” according to the request letter he sent to the Fund on the fire corporation’s letterhead.
Mr. Farrell said he and other Fund leaders became concerned about the location and use of the van after reading about the Feb. 16 Lewis County Supreme Court’s decision to freeze all but two of the accounts under the control of Copenhagen Fire Department Inc. and the use of all equipment, apparatus and vehicles — including the van — except for a pick-up truck with a plow.
The Fund was not notified that the village department no longer existed and that the non-profit remaining as Copenhagen Fire Department Inc. was no longer under contract to fight fires, according to Mr. Farrell.
Mr. Williams sent the Fund a letter dated the same day as the court proceeding requesting a notarized letter verifying that the van was a donation from the Terry Fund which Mr. Farrell — who is a lawyer — interpreted as “clearly a ploy to get the Terry Fund involved in the dispute ... we refused.”
When Mr. Farrell emailed Mr. Williams that the van should be returned, Mr. Williams asked for proof that he had signed an agreement for the van.
Although Mr. Farrell said the terms of contract were explained to Mr. Williams, the agreement was again made clear to the group that picked up the van and he believes one of the group signed for the vehicle under those terms.
A photo supplied by Mr. Farrell of the Copenhagen group picking up the van shows corporation President James Henry and corporation members Shane D. Henry and Terence M. Williams Sr. in front of the van before heading back north.
Mr. Farrell is not currently in the state and does not have access to the records so he could not locate the signed agreement but noted that even without it, because the value of the van is less that $5,000, a verbal agreement is sufficient under state law.
He and two other Fund members were present when the terms of contract were discussed with the Copenhagen group before they accepted the van.
Mr. Souva said that although he would like to help expedite the situation to get the van back to the Terry Fund which claims there are eight departments on a wait list for a van donation, he has not reached out directly or through counsel to Mr. Williams or Mr. Henry.
“We know their stance,” said Mr. Souva. “I’m not going to try to demand it at this point. There’s no sense in trying to push it.”
The board did, however, pass a motion in their meeting on Wednesday to return the van to the Terry Fund if it comes back to the village after the next court proceeding.
“It said that the governing body has class,” said Mr. Farrell in reaction to the resolution. “They saw the fools involved lied and are trying to correct the wrong.”
Mr. Farrell said the Terry Fund, which is an all-volunteer organization he and his brothers formed to honor their brother Terrence Farrell who was killed as a first responder at the World Trade Center in 2001, works very hard to get vehicles and apparatus donated along with equipment and other items to help other departments in 14 states, so it is infuriating that a department would try to take advantage of that. “What am I supposed to tell the donor of that van? That some (drill) race team hobbyist has it to do whatever they want?” he said in a phone interview on Thursday. “The only other time something like this happened... it ended up in charges being filed. You can’t go around doing this. You can’t just take these things.”
The corporation has been known to use the van to take members to drill team events around the state and on at least one occasion, for personal use by Mr. Henry to be taken to the airport.
The board also passed resolutions on Tuesday to accept — on paper — firefighting gear issued to former village firefighter Scott Alexander and reissuing the same equipment to him for use as a Rutland Volunteer Fire Department firefighter that now covers the village.
To date, seven of the 12 new firefighters who have joined the Rutland Voluneer Fire Department which is contracted to provide fire protection for the village since the local department was abolished live locally, according to Rutland Chief William E. Kalin III.
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