2018-01-11 / Front Page

Costs for Northfield Fire Department May Be Going Up

Northfield Fire Chief Peter J. DeMasi appeared before a budget meeting of the Northfield Selectboard last week to speak about the needs of the Fire Department in the coming year’s town budget.
The Selectboard has been holding a series of meetings to discuss the needs of various town departments and  to determine what they can expect in the way of budgetary requirements during the coming fiscal year.
The Fire Chief said that the proposed FY 2018/2019 budget for his department has operating expenditures rising 4.8 per cent. He explained that most of this increase is due to increases in dispatching costs ($13,800 to $15,460); insurance rates for vehicles, property, and liability coverage; and more money set aside for vehicle maintenance costs since the fleet has some older vehicles. 
In addition, he noted that there is a slight increase for personal protection equipment such as uniforms and safety gear. 
Manager Schulz asked how many officers and volunteers the department currently had.  The Chief said about twenty-two, which is about normal. 
Chair Ken Goslant asked if the department responds to every car accident. Chief DeMasi said it did as there was always a threat of fire due to gasoline leakage and that the responders also assist with traffic control. At this point, Chair Goslant asked if the municipality can charge for fire responses as he feels these frequent non-structure callouts are putting significant wear and tear on fire vehicles. 
Manager Schulz doesn’t think any Vermont fire departments charge for this. Selectman Lynn Doney believes the Berlin Fire Department does charge for car accident callouts by billing the insurance companies involved and he thinks they make a lot of money this way. Manager Schulz said that he will check on this. 
Manager Schulz said that there are several problems with the fire department building. Selectman Doney said that he feels it will cost at least $500,000 to bring the fire station up to standard. 
Chief DeMasi said the Fire Station was built about thirty (30) years ago on a shoestring with many features left unfinished. It was assumed at the time the building would be periodically upgraded but this was never completed. Immediate problems, such as rotting wood support beams, have been addressed but other long-term problems have not. 
Chair Goslant believes the municipality needs to find a way to expand and/or update the Fire Station as a combined facility without saddling Northfield taxpayers with a multi-million dollar project. 
Chief Rutter said the architect’s estimate was $2,700,000. Selectman Johnson felt the building’s problems were so extensive it made much more sense to obtain a bank bond of at least $500,000 so everything can be addressed at one time. Rather than putting a little bit more in the CIP account each year, he believes the municipality should find out how much a twenty to thirty year bond would cost. Chair Goslant noted there already are plans to obtain a multi-year bond to fix the sidewalks. Selectman Maxwell doesn’t think all these problems can be resolved at one budget meeting. A comprehensive study should be done presenting all options. He felt much more information is needed before any decision can be made. Manager Schulz felt the aforementioned $25,000 would cover the most urgent building repairs. Selectman Maxwell would like all the building’s deficiencies identified and the proper course of action determined before next year’s budget is approved. 
The 1993 tanker truck was to be replaced in the next fiscal year but this has been postponed to FY 2019/2020. Chief DeMasi said this vehicle goes out thirty to forty  times each year when the call area is beyond the municipal hydrant system. The truck now is twenty-five  years old and has severe problems with overheating and rust. 
Manager Schulz suggested perhaps a used tanker could be located. Chief Rutter said most fire department kept their tanker trucks until they were falling apart. Chief DeMasi said a demonstration model might be available from a dealer at a reduced price. He will check to see if any are available. Manager Schulz said it is possible to use prior year surplus funds to fill the gap between the amount currently in the tanker replacement CEP account ($83,753) and the actual vehicle replacement cost (±$250,000). Chief DeMasi said the two pumper trucks (2007 and 2017) are in good shape and not scheduled for replacement for twelve and twenty-two years respectively. Sufficient funds are being set aside each year for their replacement. 
Chair Goslant asked what happened to the sale of the out-of-service 1996 pumper truck. Chief DeMasi said it has been advertised for sale for over a year. The initial asking price was $28,000 and there was an offer for $24,000 but it turned out the proposed buyer did not have authorization from his local government to complete the purchase. The advertised price then was dropped to $20,000 but there has been no interest at that price. There had been a creditable offer at $15,000 but the Select Board felt at the time this was too low a price and rejected it. Chair Goslant thought the Select Board was told when the 2017 replacement pumper truck was authorized the old truck could be sold for about $45,000. Chief DeMasi said he told the Select Board some fire departments had advertised similar trucks for as much as $45,000 but a more realistic selling price was always in the $15,000 range. He now would like to re-advertise the truck for $15,000 and perhaps get about $10,000. Chair Goslant still has a different recollection regarding what he was initially told regarding the old truck’s possible resale value. 

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