The Laurel Volunteer Rescue Squad, boasting land and air divisions and a reputation as one of the more efficient units on the East Coast, has discovered that it is easier to rescue an injured person than two ailing helicopters.
Since August, 1974, two $50,000 Army surplus helicopters that the rescue squad says belongs to it have been resting in a rock field in Warren, Vt.
Where they will be next month depends on a U.S. District Court judge in Baltimore, who is to decide Friday in one of the more unusual cases of the year: The Laurel Volunteer Rescue Squad, Inc., vs. Calvin H. Carr.
Calvin H. Carr is the fellow who is keeping the two helicopters at his family farm in Vermont. He is a former serviceman who, in the early 1970s, repaired helicopters at Ft. Meade and spent his spare time as a member of the Laurel Rescue Squad's air wing.
The battle of the helicopters actually began in 1972, when the rescue squad persuaded the Army and civil defense bureaucracy that its public service in the Laurel area would be enhanced by the addition of two helicopters. According to Hal Silvers, a civil defense official in Prince George's County, the Laurel outfit almost always got what it wanted.
"That squad is internationally known and famed," said Silvers. "If they found they needed a product and it was at no cost to the taxpayers, they got it. That's how they got the helicopters."
"They planned to use them for search and rescue operations, he said.
Shortly after the Laurel squad obtained the helicopters from the federal government, however, it was discovered that the two flying machines were in a state of disrepair. Enter Carr, the helicopter repairman and air wing member, a natural for the job at hand.
According to a court brief supplied by the rescue squad, Carr told James Alexander, then chief of the squad, that he would be willing to fix the helicopters. When Alexander agreed, Carr transported the machines to an airport in Anne Arundel County and began work. By late summer of 1974. Carr informed Alexander that he had one helicopter in flying condition but that he still wanted to work on both of them a little more, the brief stated.
Carr was out of the service by then according to the brief, and told Alexander that he would continue his repair work at his home in Vermont. When Alexander accepted that idea, Carr flew one of the helicopters to his home and had that other shipped up by truck. He promised to return one of the helicopters in "a few weeks according to Alexander.
Month after month went by, with the famous rescue squad anxiously awaiting the return of it prized helicopters.Alexander said he sent letters to Carr that went without reply. Then he had Gen. Rinaldo Van Brunt of the Maryland Civil Defense Office send Carr a letter stating that the helicopters still were officially U.S. property and could not be transferred, he said.
Finally, notice came from Carr who said he had the helicopters all fixed but was holding onto them until he got paid for his work. He set a price tag at $20,000. Alexander and the civil defense officials took issue with that price, arguing that their understanding was that Carr had agreed to fix the helicopters "gratuitously."
After two years of waiting, the state civil defense agency sent three inspectors to Vermont to report on what was going on up there. Royce Johnson, one of the inspectors, later offered this testimony in court briefs:
"It is my opinion that one helicopter had not been worked on and that it definitely was not in flying condition. The other helicopter would not be, in my opinion, in a safe flying condition due to the lack of doors," a cracked bubble, and an apparent leaking transmission."
Carr, who has not been available for comment states in the court records that he and two associates put $20,000 worth of repairs into the two machines and that both are in fit condition.
Ironically, the Laurel squad is no longer interested in using the helicopters. "As soon as we get them back, they'll be shipped over to Allegany," said Al Good, who has replaced Alexander as squad chief. "The state police have their own helicopters now and it's unfeasible for us to compete with them. I don't have any interest in the helicopters; this whole thing goes back to a different time and different leadership. All it's done for me is give me a headache."