Group hires Chesapeake VFD company despite Kanawha commissioner's misgivings
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A Chicago company installing emergency sirens in Kanawha and Putnam counties has subcontracted with a local firm that one official specifically asked to have excluded from the project.
Kanawha Commissioner Dave Hardy said in March he didn't want Communications Services Inc. to work on the installation of 17 emergency sirens in the county.
The Chesapeake Volunteer Fire Department owns Communications Services. Hardy has raised several concerns about the VFD's financial practices, and the Kanawha County prosecuting attorney's office is investigating the department.
The Kanawha-Putnam Emergency Planning Committee recently received $570,000 from the U.S. Homeland Security Grant to purchase and install the sirens. About $70,000 was used for installation.
Though Hardy has said he didn't want the Chesapeake company involved with the project, the contract holder, Chicago-based Federal Signal Corp., has subcontracted to two local companies - Communications Services of Chesapeake and Electronic Communications of Cross Lanes.
"I don't want them to have anything to do with this project," Hardy said of Communications Services. "They have no business doing any work for the county."
Commission President Kent Carper wasn't surprised. He said he pointed out the possibility of subcontracting in the past.
"I said that there were very few companies that could actually do this work and they were one of them," Carper said. "I made it clear as glass that they were a potential vendor."
The Kanawha-Putnam Emergency Planning Committee, not the Kanawha County Commission, awarded the contract, Carper said. The grant funds were directly awarded to the committee, said C.W. Sigman, Kanawha County deputy emergency manager.
The Kanawha and Putnam commissioners do not appoint the committee board members, Sigman said. People approach the committee members and ask to serve.
The committee had no idea the VFD owned Communication Services Inc. or that the agency was being investigated by the prosecuting attorney, Chairman Matt Blackwood said.
Blackwood and the committee members were not aware that Federal Signal had subcontracted with the Chesapeake company, he said.
This is the first time the local emergency committee has dealt with the Chicago-based company, Blackwood said.
"We decided to go with Federal Signal because of the size and scope of the project," he said.
The $70,000 was part of a $570,000 overall project that included the purchase of the siren equipment and poles, said Larry Zuspan, administrator for the Kanawha-Putnam Emergency Planning Committee.
None of the equipment was purchased from Communication Services Inc., he said.
Blackwood doesn't think the VFD's troubles with the county will have any effect on the quality of the work. He said Federal Signal watches its subcontractors closely. However, he was concerned about public funds being paid to a company owned by an agency under investigation.
"When public monies are involved, it's always a concern," he said.
The committee selected Federal Signal to install the new sirens because the company sold the county the old emergency sirens, Zuspan said. The new and old sirens will be placed on the same network, he said.
"It only makes sense to use that vendor," he said.
Federal Signal works with only two companies in the state, Communications Services Inc. and Electronic Communications, said David Erwin, county Emergency Operations Center coordinator.
Zuspan's main concern was getting the sirens installed before the grant's deadline of May 31. Zuspan added that although the fire department is under investigation, none of its members has been convicted of a crime.
"You're innocent until proven guilty," he said.
Carper agreed, saying no indictments have been handed down.
"They haven't been found guilty of any tax crimes or anything," he said.
Carper would have rather seen Electronic Communications used exclusively, but he said that wasn't the commission's decision to make.
"But I certainly wouldn't have turned my back on getting essential emergency equipment for the county," he said.
VFD officials did not return calls seeking comment.
Hardy has contacted the committee and expressed his concerns, but because the project is nearly complete, he doesn't think much can be done.
"I don't like it," he said.
Carper said the sirens are sorely needed. He said he's happy to see the work nearly done.
The new sirens will also be able to play prerecorded messages letting people know what type of emergency is taking place. They will be tested on the fourth Wednesday of every month.
They also are being tested as they are installed.
One of the sirens was recently installed near the courthouse at the corner of Goshorn Street and Kanawha Boulevard.