Study explores having Hilltown fire departments pool resources

  • Goshen is one of five hilltowns considering whether to collaborate on its fire services. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 6/21/2021 8:56:02 PM

By BERA DUNAU

 A study is suggesting that the hilltowns of Chesterfield, Goshen, Worthington, Plainfield and Cummington could pool resources to jointly hire full-time firefighters to supplement the communities’ volunteer departments.

“It just makes sense … that we try to find a way to work together,” said Charley Rose, chair of the Worthington Select Board.

The study was done by Municipal Resources Inc. over a period of months for the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission. The report was released in May, and a presentation will be done Wednesday over Zoom at 7 p.m. The link to the presentation is https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89027985655?pwd=ME41SVNkaDJna2FaR3Z3eGFXV2k5QT09.

Eric Weiss manager of regional and municipal services at Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, said Municipal Resources Inc. did a “fantastic job” and were very responsive with the communities. He said that his job is to bring people together and keep them talking to one another.

The study comes out of earlier efforts from Chesterfield and Goshen to consider sharing public safety resources.

“Goshen and Chesterfield were the first two that got in on this,” said Sue Labrie, the now retired Goshen fire chief.

The other three communities then got involved as well and the expertise of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission were utilized.

The study notes a number of strengths and challenges for the five departments, with a prominent issue being a decline in volunteerism in the fire service.

“Everyone has trouble getting volunteers,” Rose said.

Some of the recommendations the study has includes prioritizing hiring people in town Departments of Public Works who are also volunteer firefighters, encouraging other town employees to serve as volunteer firefighters, and working with local businesses to allow firefighters to respond to emergency situations during working hours without penalty.

Other recommendations are setting a  minimum criterion for members to maintain an active status and having each of the five departments conduct a community risk assessment.

The study also lays out a seven-part plan where a regional hub for firefighting is created for the five towns, which would eventually include a full-time paid coordinator and full-time firefighters to supplement the volunteer forces. Cooperating to purchase equipment is also recommended in this plan.

The plan also contemplates the idea of operationally merging some departments, although even in such a scenario the departments would retain their own names and a degree of autonomy.

Plainfield Fire Chief David Alvord said he liked the discussion on paid firefighters, although he doesn’t think that’s feasible at the moment. Plainfield is the only one of the five departments that doesn’t pay its volunteers outside of its chief.

“There’s a lot of stuff in there that we’ve already been doing,” said Alvord, noting that Plainfield already considers volunteer firefighting status when hiring for the Department of Public Works.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.




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