B y Krystle S. Morey

Citing “hundreds of thousands of dollars” of debt and the absence of certifications for its members and equipment, the Granville Village Board has ordered Granville Hook & Ladder Co. to “stand down” until further notice.

At the same time, the board asked the state Comptroller’s Office to audit the department’s finances.

Mayor Brian LaRose said the stand-down order comes after an internal investigation by the board discovered that only one of the department’s 18 members is certified to respond to a fire. The study also revealed that much of the department’s equipment is not OSHA-certified.

The department, located at 42 Quaker Street, cannot respond to any calls until the state Comptroller’s Office completes its audit.

During the stand down, other area departments will be called to respond to fires in the village. Even if there is a fire at a business or residence across the street from the Hook & Ladder department, it cannot respond. Washington County Dispatch will call in first responders from area departments including those in Granville, North Granville, Middle Granville, Whitehall and West Pawlet to respond to village fires.

LaRose said the state audit will offer a “non-biased view of what their finances are.” The review will look at the department’s finances, books and bank statements and then suggest a course of action to be considered by the village board.

“The department has been losing money for a substantial length of time,” he said, citing the “hundreds of thousands of dollars” of debt.

Hook & Ladder Chief Dan McClenning did not respond to calls for comment. Department President Matt James declined to comment.

As part of the stand-down order, which was put in place three weeks ago, the village is withholding all disbursements of funds to the department until the audit is completed.

Cause for concern

“As part of an annual compliance review,” LaRose said, “we had asked that some certifications and certificates be produced in reference to safety equipment. It is something that the state of New York requires periodically, that certain certifications be maintained and certain certificates are required in order to run fire departments efficiently, safely and reduce the liability potential for the municipality.”

The village ordered compliance reviews, which looks for proof of certification of members and equipment, for two local departments, one being the Hook & Ladder. The other department, Granville Engine & Hose Company, submitted the necessary paperwork after about two weeks, LaRose said. Hook & Ladder has yet to turn in a complete review, he said.

LaRose added: “All requested documentation has not yet been completely verified by the village board, so with that being said I ask that the Granville Hook & Ladder Department remain on stand down,” he said. “Until we have got some of these issues satisfied, we are going to remain in that status until further notice.”

The stand down presents some major problems for the village and its residents.

Hook & Ladder has some unique equipment that is used county-wide, but with the stand-down order it cannot authorize use of the equipment. The department is the only one in the area that has an air-filling apparatus and a special type of ladder truck that is used to fight structure fires.

The only vehicle certified to respond to calls is its rescue truck, LaRose said, but “no one there is certified to run that truck … and a three-man team is required to run it,” LaRose said.

Liability issues

LaRose said liability is a large factor that he and the board are concerned about. If a firefighter was injured on the job, the incident would not be covered under insurance because the apparatus and member certifications are outdated or missing.

“The liability would fall on the village,” he said. The board has enlisted Village Attorney Michael Martin to assess the liability.

The potential debt is also a liability to the village. If the comptroller’s audit suggests the department be dissolved, the village will absorb the hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. If Hook & Ladder were to merge with another department, that department would be responsible for the debt.

“From my chair, I can’t sit back with that liability out there,” LaRose said.

Timeline

At the board’s June 6 meeting, LaRose said that he asked the Comptroller’s Office to complete its audit as soon as possible, “in lieu of public safety.” When the board ordered a similar review of the Pember Library a few years ago, it took four to six months to be completed, he said.

Trustee Dean Hyatt thanked the department’s members who were in attendance at the board meeting for their service.

“I know you guys work a lot of hours and you’ve fought a good fight, but at the same time the village does need to get these other tasks completed,” Hyatt said, recognizing the members’ frustrations.

“It’s to limit the liability of the village … that’s what’s putting us in the position that we are in,” Hyatt said. “It’s not easy for us.”

LaRose asked Chief Michael Zinn of the Granville Engine & Hose Company #1 to send out a notice to all local first responders acknowledging the fact that the Hook & Ladder department is on stand down until further notice.

Firemen’s Carnival

The Hook & Ladder’s annual Firemen’s Carnival was approved by the board at the same June 6 meeting under the condition that it must submit a profit-loss statement after the event. The profit-loss analysis must be submitted to the board within 30 days after the event. The carnival is underway and runs through Saturday, June 18.

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