Is there a way to centralize fire service in the town of Whitehall?
That was the question asked by the Whitehall town board at the April 15 meeting.
“What has come to light is that there are issues with the fire companies,” said town councilman David Waters. “There’s no way that we politicians can make it where the two companies sit down and talk about a merger, but we do have two companies looking for money.”
Waters said that he felt a way to deal with the issue would be to create a volunteer fire commission made up of town, village, fire company and private individuals.
“the commission would see to the needs of the service entities,” said Waters. “It takes the pressure off of the town and village boards and you make a commission out of one member from each of the boards, a member from each of the entities and two private citizens.”
Waters said that a commission could also oversee if there were any cases of duplication of services.
“Everyone knows that both companies are strung out, but there does not need to be a duplication of services,” said Waters. “The ladder at Skenesborough has a pumper, while Whitehall is looking for a new pumper. Maybe if we were able to funnel all of the money together through this commission we could keep the boards out of it and get more for our dollar.”
“There is a duplication of equipment between the two,” said town councilman Farrell Prefountaine. “But we also have to consider that each organization has a daily operating budget just to keep them afloat and that money also comes from the town and village.”
“What Dave is getting at is very logical,” said town supervisor Vernon Scribner. “You do not want to have duplication of equipment purchased or duplication of services.”
Scribner also said that since there were two companies in the town, then both companies should be able to respond to town events.
Currently, the Skenesborough Volunteer Fire Company is contracted for fire services with the village only and may not even be the second unit called out in an emergency in the town, according to Skenesborough chief Jim Martell.
“I’d like to see both companies called out at the same time,” said Scribner. “We should look into that and signing a contract with them so both companies get called out at the same time.”
“We didn’t join the fire company to run bingo,” said Martell. “We joined to be called out to every fire and to serve the people in Whitehall.”
Whitehall Volunteer Fire Company chief Bryan Brooks said in a phone interview the following week that he was unaware that the topic came up in the April 15 meeting.
“I would like to sit down and talk with the board about it, but no one has come to us yet,” said Brooks. “What they are proposing sounds a lot like a fire district, which is something that we have pitched the town about with the town and we feel that we have some very valid points about looking into a fire district that would benefit both companies.”