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BOF Members Warn Fire Houses Of Losing Their Independence

Meanwhile, Other Board Members Say This New Method Is A Good Thing

Wednesday night, despite questions on everything from office supplies to $750 digital cameras, the Board of Finance approved a $2.6 million budget for Waterford's fire services for the 2012-13 fiscal year.

The board did cut $16,500 from the original proposal, which was a 3.3 percent increase from this year, but the cuts were all offered up by Fire Director Bruce Miller. The increase was largely due to increases in salary and utility costs, Miller said.

But the biggest news of the night happened at the beginning of the meeting, when Board of Finance member Norman Glidden voiced his concerns about the new way the town’s fire services are being run. The fire services' budget is now under the control of one person, the fire director, instead of the way it was, with the five fire companies running their services more independently, he said.

“I don’t know if (the volunteer firemen) see what is around the corner,” Glidden said. “You now have all the budgets under one person, and that means all the control under one person. Once the (control) is gone, it is gone.”

The History

For years, each fire company would request a lump sum of money from the town, which was mostly spent by the volunteer chief on the volunteer firefighters. Much like the education budget, the fire company would ask for a total, and would have control over how it spent that money.

Waterford's paid fire service meanwhile was under the fire administrator. The administrator would have control over all of the paid firefighters, and his budget would have the same scrutiny as any other municipal budget.

Now, the fire administrator position has been replaced with the position of fire director, which has control over all the fire budgets in town. Before, the fire chiefs at the five departments would figure out how to spend their money, while now each dollar is broken out line-item by line-item.

The fire director has control over all of those dollars, and if the director wants to spend money designated for one line-item, say clothing, in another line-item, say fire equipment, the director would need approval from the Board of Selectmen.

The change was facilitated by a that eliminated the fire administrator position and created a more powerful fire director position. Miller, who was the fire administrator, was hired as the fire director.

Glidden’s concern, which was voiced by some members of Waterford's fire services during the charter revision, is that all of the power is now with one person. Instead, the fire companies should be independent, as they are volunteer organizations, Glidden said.

“I like to see the independent firehouses,” he said. “For an accounting perspective, I know this might be easier. But nothing worthwhile is easy.”

Meanwhile, other Board of Finance members disagreed. J.W. “Bill” Sheehan said the new system, with one fire director having full responsibility over the budgets, increase transparency to the taxpayer and gives the five fire companies more “flexibility.”

“I support it,” Sheehan said. “I think it provides more flexibility to the five fire companies.”

The five fire companies in town are , , , and .

Keep it real March 15, 2012 at 11:44 AM
Mr. Glidden calls them "volunteer organizations" but in reality they are public safety providers, no different than the police. The public doesn't care how much the members of these organizations get paid, they care that trained professionals arrive and take care of their problem. This new arrangement seems to actually do the opposite of Mr. Glidden's claims and allows for greater accountability.
William Terry March 15, 2012 at 12:09 PM
One director to lead the administration of these critical and valued services sounds like a good thing. One voice to stand up for the companies needs. I believe J.W. “Bill” Sheehan has it right.
Wayne Gilpin March 15, 2012 at 05:53 PM
Absolutely right Norm! One person in charge is great as long as they share your views. As soon as the views differ, you hear about the need for checks and balances, sharing authority and working across the aisle. Ten years from now when you say, "I warned you.", it will be too late.
Property Owner March 15, 2012 at 07:39 PM
Won't that person be held accountable by the BOF anyway? The older system didn't work.
Paul March 15, 2012 at 10:29 PM
I am truly amazed at Mr. Gliddens' comments especially as an elected official. He has every right to disagree with the system. However, where was he with his opinions while the charter revision commissions were doing their work. They had numerous meetings over a year and half that were properly noticed just like his BOF meetings! I did not see him at any meetings offering constructive suggestions about issues that the Waterford Fire Service was having. If he happens to state that he did not know about them. Than I am worried about how he is representing how tax payer money is being spent! After all the First Selectperson is from the same party he is and it was the First Selectperson who asked for the Charter Commission to take place. In addition, the previous fire commission came to meetings, the fire chiefs, came to meetings, the paid fire fighters came to meetings, and the volunteers came to meetings, but when invited very few elected officials came to offer their suggestions. Plus the director of fire services from another town came to offer suggestions when they did not have to. As all meetings are posted the public was also invited. A lot of interesting information was discussed at those meetings. No decisions were made prior to getting all the information. Once decisions were made the entire town voted with a majority for the changes to the Fire Service.
Paul March 15, 2012 at 10:42 PM
The Fire Commission worked in the past when the town had a true volunteer system. Today the Fire Service is made up of mostly volunteers, paid full time union fire fighters, paid part timers, volunteer chiefs, and a paid fire services director. The system is now a hybrid system. Today the commission has been replaced by a board of fire chiefs that are supposed to be meeting to give suggestions to the fire services director. Those chiefs are elected by the independent membership of each fire house. So their independence is represented at those meetings. The independent members can change their chiefs at their elections. If they do not like what the Fire Services director or First Selectperson is doing than they have a chance to change who the First Selectperson is every 4 years. The Tax payers have a right to know how there money is being spent and if it is being spent efficiently. This system does just that. I do note however, that a system is only as good as the people who are running it!
Bridget Elliott March 16, 2012 at 05:06 PM
How many fires are there, on average, in Wtfd every year? How many EMT/ambulance calls? anyone know? Is this info available at Town Hall?
Paul Petrone (Editor) March 16, 2012 at 05:10 PM
In 2011, Waterford Fire Services extinguished 62 fires, and had 3,520 emergency responses. For more information (on just about everything in town): http://patch.com/A-pFqf

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