WEATHERSFIELD, Vt. — While the selectboard remains undecided over how to proceed with the municipal fire department plan, residents and volunteer firefighters pressed the selectors to at least take action through policy setting.
During the selectboard’s fire department discussion on Monday, Chief Joshua Dauphin of the West Weathersfield Volunteer Fire Department criticized the selectboard’s lack of response to two alleged safety concerns occurring in one of the town’s volunteer department, one alleging that some firefighters have allowed their child to ride in the apparatus to a call, in situations when the volunteer had no childcare available.
When told by Selectboard Chair Kelly Murphy that alleged safety concerns should be formally documented and submitted to Town Manager Ed Morris, Dauphin said that the town needs to first establish a policy against such a practice, which the town should have the right to require since the town pays the insurance for the two departments.
“We already do this now with the driver record checks,” Dauphin said. “You wanted the drivers of the trucks to have valid licenses, so you asked us to fill out DMV checks so we do that.”
Selectboard members appeared to be in some disagreement over the issue. Murphy told Dauphin that whether the town would consider a policy will depend on what the National Fire Prevention Association recommends, which she asked Morris to research for the next meeting. Murphy also asked that department members document these incidents so that the selectboard has official reports to support their purpose, rather than base it on hearsay.
Selectman N. John Arrison, however, was more adamant about the need to cease the practice.
“Even if you can’t find documentation that supports those claims, to me it’s a no-brainer that children should not be riding on a fire truck to a fire scene because the firefighter can’t find a babysitter,” Arrison said.
Murphy said that, from personal experience, some volunteer departments in the past accepted the occasional need for members to take their children with them to fire scenes, and that training to modern standards may be necessary.
“There’s a mindset that if you have to bring a child to get to the call, there are some who believe that it’s better than to not go to the call,” Murphy said.
Vice Chair David Fuller said that such a policy could result in departments not being able to report due to unavailability of members.
West Weathersfield volunteer Tracy Dauphin disagreed with the need, saying that for years she would drop her children off at a neighbor’s house first.
“There’s no reason at all for a child to go,” Dauphin said. “Drop them off with a neighbor, call a babysitter, do what you have to do.
West Weathersfield volunteer Josh Compo told the selectboard that nothing can change until the selectboard establishes a policy that the departments must adhere to, in order to retain a service contract with Weathersfield. The current agreement lacks teeth to enforce anything, Compo said, because there is no such language specifying such expectations or the consequences for failing to meet them.
Weathersfield resident Paul Chaffee said that the town should have a set of policies regarding its fire department regulations, and that rather than reinvent the wheel the town can research what neighboring towns do.
The selectboard indicated that they would continue this discussion at next month’s board meeting. Members indicated that such a policy should apply to all town-owned vehicles, not just fire trucks, though members said they would want language concerning the fire department to only apply to situations like dispatch calls, rather than children who board a fire apparatus at a parade or open house.