Village open to dissolving fire services

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BELLOWS FALLS — The Bellows Falls Board of Trustees is investigating the process of discontinuing all village fire services.

If that were to happen, the town of Rockingham would have to take over.

That is only one possible scenario as the board considers its options in the wake of an unfair labor practice claim filed by Bellows Falls firefighters. Since that claim was file in August, the board has held numerous executive session regarding the decision to lay off all four firefighters to meet budget constraints, according to Trustee James McAuliffe.

The trustees made a motion on Tuesday night, after an executive session, that would delay layoffs of the full-time firefighters currently working in the Bellows Falls Fire Department. Instead, the firefighters would be placed on unpaid furlough from Dec. 11 to 31, though they will accrue vacation time and benefits.

McAuliffe was the only trustee to oppose the motion.

Previously, the trustees had voted to change the Fire Department model to an on-call Fire Department with a full-time chief. This is still the plan, according to Municipal Manager Shane O'Keefe. It seems that the trustees are still open to other possibilities.

"So many things are open still," said Trustee Deborah Wright, adding that the furlough was meant to invite firefighters back to the table. "We're attempting, in good faith, to make resolutions. We're trying to keep communication open."

O'Keefe said the furlough was, in part, a response to an ongoing unfair labor practice the firefighters filed against the village.

"It is my feeling that this action further demonstrates the village's desire to keep alive the opportunity to reach an agreement," O'Keefe said.

Meanwhile, the village intends on collecting more information about alternative actions to take with the Fire Department.

On Dec. 15, O'Keefe will provide information to the Board of Trustees about the means and methods that would be involved if the village were to stop providing fire services.

O'Keefe said that dissolving fire services has not been discussed yet with the Rockingham Select Board. He said he will confer with the Select Board, the Rockingham Fire Department and the state about fire services, before the Dec. 15 meeting with the Trustees.

Deputy Fire Chief Steve Cenate, who did not find out about the trustee board's motion until Wednesday afternoon, thinks dissolving fire services would be a mistake. "The Fire Department's been here since the 1800s," he said.

Cenate said he would, however, be open to more communication with the trustees.

And, though the layoffs have left a "sour taste" for the firefighters, the village's decision to furlough their positions does help, he said, because it allows them to cash out their accrued time when they are officially laid off.

Harmony Birch can be reached at hbirch@reformer.com, at

@Birchharmony on Twitter and 802-254-2311, Ext. 153.

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