Whitefield Fire Chief Scott Higgins tells residents why his department needs a new fire truck at a public hearing Feb. 25. (Kathy Onorato photo)
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By Kathy Onorato
About 40 Whitefield residents took the opportunity to learn more about the fire department’s $269,000 request for a new fire truck at a public hearing Feb. 25.
On March 15, residents will take a special referendum vote on the question of purchasing a 2015 E-One pumper tanker at a cost of $269,000.
If approved, the pumper tanker will replace the two aging trucks at the Coopers Mills station. The 22-year-old pumper and the 34-year-old tanker truck are becoming unreliable, according to Whitefield Fire Chief Scott Higgins.
Higgins told residents the truck will be housed at the Coopers Mills station, but it will belong to the town of Whitefield. “It will enhance fire fighting capabilities throughout Whitefield, especially in the northern part of town where the bulk of the population lives in closely-spaced houses and large commercial and institutional structures are located,” he said.
Louis Sell told residents it was reasonable for residents and firefighters to expect equipment that is safe and operating properly. “We wouldn’t want to find out in the heat of a fire that the equipment is unreliable,” he said. “It’s critical to save people’s lives and the lives of firefighters.”
Whitefield Budget Committee member Melinda Caron said her committee supported the purchase of the fire truck because taxpayers would not be seeing an increase in their taxes.
The estimated yearly payment of $23,076 for the new truck would replace the payment amount of $18,334 the town just paid off for the truck it purchased in 2004 for the Kings Mills station. This represents an increase of $4742, however when considering a budget line of $2000 for repairs and maintenance on the older vehicles, the town is talking about a minimal increase in the budget, Caron said.
“I see this as a complete win,” she said
Caron said her husband is a firefighter and she would like to feel confident he is going to be safe when fighting fires. “This is personal for me,” she said.
Higgins said this truck purchase is part of the regular equipment replacement schedule laid out in a long-range plan adopted in 2004.
“It the town voted not to buy the truck, taxes would go down, but I would be forced to decide where to divide our equipment,” Higgins said. “I don’t even want to think about that.”
Whitefield resident Lore Ford who led a petition drive to get the question decided by referendum ballot instead of town meeting voiced his opposition to the proposal.
Lore Ford tells Whitefield residents that he opposes the purchase of a new fire truck. (Kathy Onorato photo)
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“Every barrel has a rotten apple; I am that rotten apple,” said Ford.
Ford said the town does not need a new truck. The pumper truck is “perfectly serviceable” he said. “It has passed the pump test and mechanically it is in good condition.”
According to Ford, the only problem with the 34-year-old tanker truck is it has rust on it. “So does my car,” he said.
Ford said the rust should not get in the way of the vehicle doing its only job: to haul and dump water.
Ford said fire department personnel has been declining steadily since 2008 when it had 35 active members; in 2011 there were 30 members, now there are only 18 active firefighters left in Whitefield, Ford said.
“Where are you going to get the people to man the equipment you already have?” he asked.
Ford also presented data he collected on the volume of calls and type of calls the three Whitefield departments have responded to since 2003. He said fire calls have decreased significantly but the demand for firefighting equipment has increased.
“I see no reason for the town to go into debt,” Ford said.
Selectman Tony Marple told Ford the town’s safety is not based on statistics but reality.
“What’s the price tag of your safety?” Tom Feeney, a 30 year firefighter, asked Ford.
The specific article states: “Shall the Town vote to purchase a 2015 E-One pumper tanker with a freightliner chassis, a 2000 gallon water tank and a 30 gallon foam tank, equipped with a 1250 gallon per minute waterous water pump at a cost of $269,000?”
Although Whitefield voters will have opportunity to discuss a proposed moratorium on any new or expanded mineral extraction activities at their annual town meeting, Planning Board Chairman Jim Torbert took the opportunity at the public hearing to explain the plan to residents.
Torbert said the 180-day moratorium will give the town time to research the effects of such extractions and consult other towns about mining ordinances.
The moratorium will also provide an opportunity to revisit the development ordinance, which was determined unconstitutional in 1994 because it was too vague.
“The moratorium is not to stop development. It’s giving us time to fix what is broken,” Torbert said.
The moratorium has a retroactive clause, which if approved, will be in effect from Jan. 31.
He also told residents Harry C. Crooker & Sons has recently submitted a long-range plan to expand operations at its gravel pit on Route 218. If the moratorium is approved, the application will be placed on hold.
If voters reject the moratorium, the Whitefield Planning Board will have only 60 days to act on the application and its not likely the town’s existing ordinances could stop the expansion.
The question Whitefield voters will consider reads: “To see if the citizens of Whitefield will impose a 180-day moratorium on any new or expanded mineral extraction activities, including sand and or gravel extraction within the town, effective Jan. 31. 2014, until such time as the planning board can develop an ordinance governing such activities within the town and take the same for a town vote.”
Whitefield polls will open Saturday, March 15, 8 a.m. to noon at the Whitefield Elementary School to elect a moderator, elect municipal officers and vote on the fire truck. The remainder of the town’s business will be handled at the annual town meeting which begins at 2 p.m.