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Sunderland explores sharing fire services

— The Board of Selectmen has sent a letter to five neighboring towns to explore sharing firefighting services.

“This is a very preliminary correspondence to towns to see if they are interested in preliminary discussions to share on-call fire service and equipment,” said Town Administrator Margeret Nartowicz.

The town sent letters to Whately, Hadley, Leverett, Hatfield and Shutesbury. It is now waiting for responses.

Sunderland initiated the correspondence for the same reason talks to regionalize its EMS services with Whately and Deerfield began.

“Sunderland relies on volunteer fire and ambulance services,” Nartowicz said. “We’d like to see if there are other ways of operating the service.”

The three southern Franklin County towns are discussing a regional EMS service to cut down on response time and provide better service to patients. The proposal on the table includes one fully staffed, 24-hour, seven-days-per-week, first-response paramedic ambulance. This regional system would likely be located at the South Deerfield Fire District.

Whately, Sunderland and Deerfield will hold a tri-town meeting at the Sunderland Town Hall on Jan. 7 at 7 p.m. to discuss combining EMS services. The three towns will discuss the finances involved in regionalization.

The Whately Board of Selectmen discussed Sunderland’s firefighting proposal at a recent meeting. The selectmen decided the town is not ready to proceed with talks on sharing fire services before it finishes discussing regionalizing the EMS departments.

“We’re not sure we’re ready to proceed with fire services,” Whately Town Administrator Lynn Sibley said. “We’re ready to discuss the next step in regionalizing ambulance services. Right now, we need to concentrate on EMS before fire services.” The Sunderland Fire Department at 105 River Road operates on an $80,000 per year budget.

The staff is made up of Fire Chief Robert Ahearn, one full-time firefighter and EMT, Jim Tower, and 10 to 15 on-call firefighters.

So far, nothing has been decided. Sunderland is still waiting for responses from other towns.

“We haven’t set any kind of agenda or meeting date or anything,” Nartowicz said.

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