Arguing for and against a merger

Weathersfield Vice-Chair David Fuller (center) discusses the selectboard’s vote to create a municipal fire department. Also present, Selectman Dan Boyer (left) and board clerk Michael Todd (Right).

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that it is alleged that Ascutney missed a call, but not confirmed. According to Ascutney Fire Chief Spaulding, the department did not miss the call. 

WEATHERSFIELD, Vt. — Amid a major administrator transition and the selectboard’s continuing indecision about the town fire services, West Weathersfield firefighters pressed the selectboard this week to act on its decision last year to create a municipal fire department.

After voters in March declined to fund a town fire department, the selectboard has stood between two courses. One would be to return to voters next March with a municipal fire plan, and the other would be to continue contracting with two separate volunteer departments of Ascutney and West Weathersfield. The selectboard has concerns about those two departments: safety concerns, budget redundancies and irrevocable riffs between the departments.

“Nothing is getting better or safer,” West Weathersfield firefighter Josh Compo told the board at Monday’s selectboard meeting. “It’s been how many months? We’re still sitting here, with the same problems and issues recurring over and over.”

The two volunteer departments remain diametrically opposed over going municipal. West Weathersfield supports going to a municipal system. They report safety concerns with how Ascutney operates, such as departmental differences in training, operating standards and communication, and difficulty finding available EMT-certified volunteers at critical times.

The Ascutney department is adamantly opposed to going municipal.

Some selectors said it was difficult to have productive discussions without more regular attendance of meetings by Ascutney members. The board had questions about an incident on Sunday in which Ascutney allegedly missed an emergency call. The Ascutney members were holding a debriefing meeting and were not available to answer the selectboard’s questions. Ascutney also has not submitted their call lists to the selectboard, which requested them weeks ago.

“These are good examples of the problem,” said Selector N. John Arrison. “It’s our legal responsibility to provide fire service to the town. If there’s even an appearance that it is not being done, we have a responsibility to make sure it is.”

Arrison said that he wants a unified fire organization, but does not know how to achieve it anymore without causing division in the community between Ascutney supporters and municipal supporters.

Town Manager Ed Morris said that the board needs to make an authoritative decision, rather than expect the two departments to find a compromise on their own.

“If we want to give [the departments] time to figure things out there needs to be a timeframe, stipulations and where we want to end up at the end of that,” Morris said. “I don’t think you throw it out broadly and say ‘You guys figure it out.’”

Selector Mike Todd said that while discussions might appear as delaying, it’s important for members to inform themselves as much as possible to describe the issue more effectively to voters.

“I don’t think we can go to the town meeting with the same message that we had last year,” Todd said. “I don’t think it was necessarily a bad message. But it didn’t work. And there’s more information that people will need. And I’m not 100% sure how to get that, but I think part of that is doing what we are right now.”

Selectboard Chair Kelly Murphy recommended that each selector consider his expectations for the town fire department for a more intensive discussion next meeting.

Ed Morris says goodbye

Early in the meeting Morris took a moment to thank the Weathersfield community for welcoming him into their community.

“You took a chance on a firefighter from Idaho with no real town manager service, and I appreciate the time and opportunity you have given me,” Morris told the board.

Morris said he will always remember the town’s hospitality, especially moments like when a Weathersfield resident took his children sightseeing in the region.

“The hospitality from day one has made this place become home to us,” Morris said.

Murphy said that she appreciated Morris’s thoroughness in researching a topic for the selectboard’s knowledge. His depth of information allowed the board to understand an issue from every angle.

“You have been a great asset to the town,” Murphy said. “I can honestly say that, from day one, you have delivered what you said you would do.”

Weathersfield residents are invited to say farewell to Morris at an afternoon event at the town hall on Thursday, from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m, which is Morris’s last day at the office. The event will be casual, allowing residents to stop by to say goodbye. Cake will be served.

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