|Williamstown, Fire District Talk About Trading Some Responsibilities|
|By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff|
02:30AM / Friday, November 20, 2020
|The Fire District wants to bring the Forest Wardens — currently operating under the police —into the Fire Department. The town would take over the street lights. |
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Williamstown Fire District is making plans to trade some responsibilities with the town.
On Wednesday, the Prudential Committee, which oversees the district, voted, 5-0, to allow its legal counsel to represent both the district and town in negotiations to move jurisdiction over street lighting to Town Hall.
In return, the Fire District is beginning discussions with town officials about transferring authority over the Forest Wardens, which currently is overseen by the police chief.
"As part of re-evaluating how we best serve the community, it seemed like a good idea to move the lighting to the town," Chair Richard Reynolds said.
The fact that it falls under the Fire District's purview at all is more or less a historical accident.
"It started in the 1900s when they were lighting candle lamps or oil lamps," Ed Briggs said. "The Fire District, when it was organized, they had the police services and some of the water department, too."
Reynolds said the district, one of the first municipal services in the town, also had responsibility for the sidewalks and curbs "back in the day."
"The Department of Public Works has taken over a lot, as you know," Briggs said.
No one really talked about the fact that the Fire District was responsible for lighting, unless they had reason to come to the Prudential Committee to ask for more or less lighting in their neighborhood, until a couple of years ago. That was when the district had an agreement with National Grid to replace the street light fixtures with more efficient LED lights, but a number of residents complained the new fixtures would be too bright and contribute to light pollution.
Ultimately, the district was able to back out of the agreement with National Grid, and the town has been discussing with the grassroots Carbon Dioxide Lowering (COOL) Committee how to go about replacing the fixtures in a way that saves electricity and keeps the light level reasonable.
Wednesday's vote by the Prudential Committee allows KP Law, the counsel for both the Town of Williamstown and the Williamstown Fire District, to help draft the intermunicipal agreement that will move the lights off the Fire District's books once and for all.
At the same time, the district is looking to take over responsibility for the Forest Wardens, who issues burn permits and responds to fires and lost hikers in the wooded areas of town.
"Whenever we have a forest fire, our department is involved heavily," Briggs said. "It goes hand in glove. I think it's the right thing to do."
Forest Warden Rick Daniels, who attended Wednesday's meeting, agreed.
"It takes both teams to get the job done," he said. "There are four of us [in the Fire Warden department] who are in the Fire Department."
Just last month, the fire personnel responded to assist the Forest Wardens with a report of a lost hiker on the Taconic Crest Trail, Chief Craig Pedercini told the committee on Wednesday.
Reynolds and district Treasurer Corydon Thurston said they did not immediately know what the net change to the town and Fire District budgets would be if both switches are made.
The last few years, the Forest Warden budget has run between $8,800 and $9,700. Fire District voters this summer approved $72,000 for street lighting in fiscal 2021.
All Williamstown residents are billed by both the town and Williamstown Fire District to support budgets approved at separate annual meetings, but both assessments appear on a single tax bill.
In other business, the Prudential Committee discussed progress on a new tanker truck that is being built for the district in Ohio. Assistant Fire Chief Mike Noyes reported that the vendor expects to have the chassis delivered at the start of next month and, as the committee previously discussed
, the vendor is amenable to sending the district photos and videos so they can track the progress instead of making in-person visits to check on the assembly.
Pedercini reported that the district was not successful in its application for a grant to replace one of its fire engines. But he said it would try again in the next round of funding.
In the meantime, the district recently had a visit from a Connecticut vendor who showed Pedercini and other personnel a demo truck.
The chief said there were a lot of new features on the truck, which might be a less expensive alternative to the custom truck that the district had been planning to acquire.
"It has a different type of suspension system on the rear of the truck," said Briggs, who was present for the demonstration. "It makes the truck more manageable, easier to drive. It's also much quieter than any of the trucks we've ever had.
"I guess it really is going to boil down to what we want, what we really need and what the differential would be between that and a stock, standardized piece of equipment."
Pedercini's monthly report to the committee highlighted the fact that the department had a busy month of permitting in October, issuing 41 permits, a number he said was "unheard of."
"Twenty-six were for CO and smoke detector inspections, which were all sales of homes," Pedercini said. "House sales were really up in October. We were getting slammed to do inspections for them."
Pedercini also shared some disappointing but expected news: The district will be losing some personnel next week when Williams College sends its students home for the rest of the semester at the start of the Thanksgiving recess.
"I want the Prudential Committee to know that since they've been back they've been instrumental in reporting to calls," Pedercini said. "It's nice to see trucks go out with a full crew.
"Unfortunately, they won't be back until the middle of February, assuming the college brings everyone back instead of keeping them on remote learning. We look forward to them coming back, but we'll miss them for the next couple of months."