The purpose of Monday night’s meeting was to provide information to the voters of Fire District #2 regarding the purchase of a new Rescue Pumper (approximately $500,000). A well attended meeting of close to 50 people and lasting over two hours, the Prudential board and members of the Cavendish Volunteer Fire Dept. (CVFD) explained that due to age and reliability, the proposed truck would replace the department’s 1996 Engine 3 and the 1993 Rescue truck. In identifying the number of issues with the existing trucks, it was stated that this is not a “nice to have” but a “need to have” situation.
The advantages of the new truck would include: increased ability to provide mutual aid; more efficient pumping and drafting capability; better turning radius than existing trucks; hold more firefighters than combined old trucks meaning more people could be on the scene quicker; meet current standards, which is not the case with existing trucks; and have a foam system for hazardous materials spill (currently don’t have this capacity).
This would be a 10 year lease purchase arrangement, which would double the Fire District #2 tax. For example a District #2 homeowner’s property valued at $200,000 is currently paying $94.2 per year in fire taxes. With the proposed truck, this tax would increase to $188.40.
In many ways the tone of the meeting was set by Evelyn Turco who read a letter to CVFD. She not only expressed her deep respect and regard for the volunteers, noting her own and her family’s long history with the department, but raised the question about need, cost and what’s the most realistic for the town. Could some of the unmet need be addressed in other ways, such as having Reading’s Fire Department respond to the Knapp Pond area?
The concern was raised that many in Fire District #2 were unaware of the informational meeting. While posted in the town’s “paper of record,” The Vermont Journal, under legal notices, there was little information that would alert voters to the issues, including the fact that if purchased, the new truck would double fire taxes.
Several audience members voiced frustration about the use of truck funds to purchase the off road vehicle without letting the voters know about it at the annual meeting, and questioned aspects of the “truck fund.”
However, there was one question repeated in a variety of different ways multiple times-Why isn’t there one fire district? Cavendish is one town so why two departments? Is there sufficient existing equipment and manpower to meet the needs of the town of Cavendish?
To the latter question the two fire districts have the following equipment and manpower:
• Fire District #1 (Proctorsville): Operates three trucks- a 3 year old pumper/tanker, the Quick Attack, which comes on-line Jan. 2016 and a 2006 pumper truck. They have 25 volunteers, 15 of which can be counted on to respond, along with a Junior Firefighter program. Since January 1, 2015 they report having responded to 107 calls.
• Fire District #2 (Cavendish): Operates four vehicles- A pumper tank and rescue truck, which are old, a 2011 Off Road Rescue/Utility truck and a 2002 Pumper/Tanker. They have 18 volunteers, 9 of which are considered “regulars.” Since January 1, 2015 they report having responded to 70 calls, an increase of 20 more than the total for 2014. This was attributed to their availability to respond to emergency medical service’s (EMS) calls.
To have a better understanding of the nature of the calls, The Vermont Department of Public Safety Division of Fire Safety’s report for 2014 was checked. At the end of this document is a breakdown of incident reports for every fire department in VT.
In 2014, CVFD had 39 incidents all fire related (including 4 False Alarms and 5 cancelled), while PVFD had a total of 73 incidences, 53 fire (including 5 false alarms) and 20 EMS related (extrication 1, Medical assistance 16 and Motor Vehicle Accident 3).
The merger of the two fire districts is a complex issue that was discussed extensively in 2005. This is not something that can be voted on at town meeting. Rather, the vote must occur by fire districts, as these are separate incorporated volunteer entities not under the town or select board’s jurisdiction. While “egos” were identified as one reason the merger hasn’t happened in the past, with a half a million dollars on the line, it is apparent that this is an issue Fire District #2 voters want to see addressed.
For more information on the histories of the Fire Districts as well as what took place in 2005, see the Cavendish Historical Society’s blog post Town of Cavendish Fire Districts History.
In the warning posted in The Vermont Journal, a vote by Australian ballot was scheduled for Fire District # 2 on Nov.24. However, the warning was not done within the state’s specified time frame, meaning those present at Monday night’s meeting had a choice to decide whether to go ahead with a vote on Nov. 24, with the Prudential Board validating the vote at a later time; or cancelling the vote and rescheduling the warning for a new time.
Because the price of the truck increases after Dec. 1, the Prudential Board and CVFD members wanted to see the vote take place as originally planned. However, the majority of meeting attendees voted to cancel the vote for Nov. 24th. Consequently, there will be no balloting for the proposed truck this month.
Contrary to a comment posted to Cavendish VT Facebook by a member of the Prudential Board, the meeting was not “hijacked by a petulant minority, fueled by personal bias against the Cavendish Volunteer Fire Department, which detracted Citizens who were there to actually listen and ask probative questions.”
Those present expressed high regard for the work of the firefighters. Yet they have real concerns about costs, need, taxes and whether it wasn’t time to have a consolidated fire district since the two stations are located 1.6 miles apart. At a time when state taxes continue to rise, and the town is loosing residents because of it, voters need to ask tough questions and strategize resources for maximum town benefit.