Fire Committee weighs fire department options

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BELLOWS FALLS — An all-volunteer fire department is less than ideal, agreed the Bellows Falls Fire Department Implementation Committee at Thursday's meeting.

Municipal Manager Shane O'Keefe drafted cost estimates for five different fire department models, so the committee could review which model it should recommend to the Bellows Falls Board of Trustees. The models are:

1. A volunteer only department;

2. An on-call department with a stipend fire chief;

3. An on-call department with one full-time paid position;

4. An on-call department with a chief stipend and a sleeper program; or,

5. An on-call department with a chief stipend and a stand-by force implemented on nights and weekends.

Committee members debated whether or not they should recommend a department that would allow the Village Board of Trustees to meet its budget for fiscal year 2018, or if they should champion a department that best fits the needs of the community.

"This purpose here is to structure a fire department for the future of Bellows Falls that would make sense," Trustee James McAuliffe said.

Wade Masure agreed. "Pretend we don't have a fire department and this is how we're going to build one to meet our needs," he said.

Price, however, was a factor for committee members. They questioned if they should recommend two models - one for the rest of FY 2018, and one that would be sustainable for future budget cycles.

The original budget, passed on May 15, would have spent $602,030 on the fire department. A full year of each proposed fire department model would cost $188,230 for model one, $236, 673 for model two, $319,018 for model three, $256,319 for model four and $266,901 for model five.

Most committee members agreed that models two and three were best. Sandy Martin and Trustee President Myles Mickle thought model five was the most desirable, but agreed that a sleeper or stand-by program could be added on later.

The committee agreed to meet again with O'Keefe to hammer out better numbers for models two and three.

All committee members agreed the village needs a dedicated fire chief.

McAuliffe said he visited the Walpole, Rockingham and Saxtons River Fire Departments on his free time and talked with each fire chief. "These were four very different individuals, but what was clear to me was that they were leaders," he said.

Shaun Mcginnis said he was confident that no matter what happened, the fire department would persevere.

"The guys will step up as much as they can to make it work," he said.

The issue of the fire department alarm system was also discussed. At Tuesday's meeting the trustees decided they needed more information before deciding to do away with the fire department's alarm system.

The trustees weren't clear as to why the fire committee wanted to do away with the system.

Buildings in the village have master boxes that are hooked up to notify the fire house. However, someone needs to be in the firehouse to monitor the system. Depending on what model the trustees choose for the new fire department, there may not be a person in the fire house 24 hours a day.

The alarm system provides $9,300 worth of revenue to the village.

"Obviously, the trustees were in it for the money," McAuliffe said. "It's like legalizing marijuana, a lot of people were crazy about the money, not so much the consequences."

Larry Clark said the alarm system worked and had some, "newer, not new," updates. But Masure said he thought the system was outdated.

Ultimately, the committee agreed that the system itself wasn't worth having a firefighter in the fire house 24 hours a day. Especially because there are better, more high tech, fire systems that buildings can use.

Masure also worried that the village would need to replace their alarm system soon, a cost estimated would be about $100,000.

"I think the fair thing to do would be to stop charging the fee," Clark said.

The committee agreed that the system should be done away with.

Harmony Birch can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext.153. Or you can follow her @birchharmony.

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