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The Toledo Fire Department played a role, intentionally or not, in creating a crucial delay in the Dec. 21 Lucas County Republican Party meeting at which dissident Republicans claim to have ousted Jon Stainbrook as chairman.
A member of the faction that voted to overthrow Mr. Stainbrook called a friend of his, a retired Toledo fire captain, and got a fire pumper dispatched to the GOP headquarters, creating a nearly hour-long delay that played into the hands of those planning the takeover.
Now Mr. Stainbrook wants the fire department to investigate and find out whether employees allowed the fire department to get caught up in local politics.
Mr. Stainbrook said the fire department was used, and said he believes some in the fire department knew the part they were playing.
"To me, it was a diversion," Mr. Stainbrook said. "The fire department, whether they were in cahoots or not, they were used. We were detained while the diversion was created."
City fire officials say Mr. Stainbrook is mistaken, as do members of the dissident faction, which is claiming that Jeff Simpson is the rightful chairman.
The meeting, held in the party's headquarters at 10 South Superior St., was the event in which a rival group launched its effort to overthrow Mr. Stainbrook.
Despite Mr. Stainbrook's complaints that the meeting violated party bylaws and state laws governing the election of party officials, no state or county official has scrutinized the process of Mr. Simpson's purported election.
Yet, the group has succeeded in getting its claims certified by the Lucas County Board of Elections, and those claims to leadership are now before the Ohio Republican Party for a determination.
Mr. Stainbrook's lawyer, Tony DeGidio, has filed a new appeal in the 6th District Court of Appeals for Lucas County to block the
Ohio GOP from taking any action that would recognize Mr. Simpson as chairman.
A meeting four days before Christmas drew an unexpectedly large crowd, many of whom were alerted in advance to a plan to try to depose Mr. Stainbrook, who had been elected in 2008.
Claiming he felt unsafe, Anthony Boellner of Grand Rapids, Ohio, a supporter of Mr. Simpson and a member of the central committee, called a friend of his who is a retired Toledo fire captain to have the building checked for overcrowding, according to Mr. Boellner and others. The friend was Gerald Debien.
Mr. Boellner denied any intent to delay the meeting, and said he went through Mr. Debien, a 35-year veteran of the department, rather than the 911 system because "I could have made a big deal out of it but I didn't want to." He claimed he was locked in a small room, but Mr. Stainbrook said the meeting room in question had no locks.
"Boellner wasn't in any danger whatsoever," Mr. Stainbrook said.
It may be impossible to find out what Mr. Debien said when he phoned in his request to the city's alarm office because a crucial 13 seconds of sound is missing from the audio recording provided to The Blade.
The gap in the conversation between Mr. Debien and Capt. Jeffrey Romstadt appears to have covered the subject of who had phoned Mr. Debien and why.
When the audio on the recording resumes, Captain Romstadt sounds somewhat incredulous.
"What is overcrowded?" Captain Romstadt asks.
"The Republican headquarters," Mr. Debien replies.
"He's calling to say that?" Captain Romstadt responds. He goes on to say he can send a truck for a "safety check."
Capt. Damon Williams in the department's communications bureau said the audio was lost through "a fault in the system," and that it could not have been erased. "I do not feel that foul play is involved," he said in an explanation e-mailed to Chief Michael Wolever.
After fire officials arrived, Mr. Stainbrook and his central committee chairman, Meghan Gallagher, were asked to walk along with Battalion Chief Jerry Abair while he checked the building for fire safety. Chief Abair eventually allowed the meeting to proceed, but stuck around because of his concerns that the building was not appropriately equipped for the crowd of more than 100 people.
Chief Abair said the fire department gets used sometimes by bars to empty the crowds out of competing bars, and he acknowledged the department could have been manipulated that night.
He said he thought it was Mr. Stainbrook who had phoned the fire department and was using him to get the meeting closed down.
"We get used like that all the time. That was my impression - he wanted us to cancel the meeting," the chief said, acknowledging he was mistaken.
During the delay, which postponed the start of the meeting until about 7 p.m., supporters of Mr. Simpson went ahead with the meeting, appointing a "temporary" chairman and voting to replace Mr. Stainbrook with Mr. Simpson.
Chris Myers, a Republican central committee member supporting Mr. Simpson, denied the delay was planned.
"The fact is at the Dec. 21 meeting, we thought Jon called the fire marshal and we got fed up with the delay and started the meeting," Mr. Myers said in an e-mail to The Blade. "Anyone saying something to the contrary is just wrong."
Mr. Stainbrook said while he was escorting the fire officials around the building, the chief had ordered that the meeting not start, so if the Simpson contingent started the meeting in order to elect a temporary chairman it was in defiance of the fire chief's orders.
Chief Wolever acknowledged that the complaint about overcrowding at the GOP came in a "circuitous" way.
"If Jon believes somebody used the fire department for something nefarious, he can have that opinion. The last thing we would have done is gone out and done an occupancy check if an occupancy check wasn't called for," the chief said. "We got a call. It came a circuitous way, but it isn't uncommon."
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