PROCTORSVILLE, Vt. – During the Proctorsville Fire Department’s latest prudential committee meeting Tuesday, March 12, PFD clarified their position on merging Fire District 1 and 2, which would create one district serving the entire area of both Cavendish and Proctorsville.
Talks of a merger have become a hot topic in the town of Cavendish of late with a town of approximately 1,500 residents supporting two fire departments that sit just a few miles apart with a combined budget of approximately $200,000. The Cavendish Fire Department (District 2) has a budget of over $81,000. Proctorsville Fire Department’s proposed budget (District 1), which will be presented in April, is $119,112.
In a written statement, PFD outlined their willingness to merge; but citing the current strength of their personnel numbers, the experience level and effectiveness of leadership, their ability to cover calls, along with their financial strength, and the condition and breadth of their equipment, they would look to lead the resulting merged fire department. According to their statement, “PFD recognizes that changing dynamics in the town of Cavendish have led some to believe that a merger of Fire Districts 1 & 2 would be in the best interests of all townspeople, PFD is not opposed to the idea of the merger. However, the terms of the merger must be based on PFD continuing to operate completely intact in all aspects with Cavendish assets, equipment, finances and, on a case-by-case basis, personnel folded into PFD.”
Meetings to discuss merger so far between the two fire departments have resulted in three main issues of disagreement that have arisen during talks: payments for firefighters, command structure, and where equipment would be housed.
According to PFD Prudential Committee Chairman Bob Parkington, “The first thing we couldn’t agree to was paid firemen…we completely disagree with that concept. That’s a non-starter, we wouldn’t continue that.” Cavendish volunteer firefighters receive $15 per call whereas Proctorsville firefighters are strictly volunteers.
Another objection is that the Cavendish Fire Dept. wants the fire chief appointed by the Cavendish Selectboard and not the Prudential Committee, which oversees the Fire Department budget, expenses, and personnel. According to Parkington, “They [CFD] were looking to maintain their fire station with their personnel and one of their officers in charge of it as a deputy chief and have the Selectboard appoint a chief to handle both departments and have an assistant chief here [at the Proctorsville fire station].” Instead, PFD wants to maintain the command structure currently in place at PFD and have CFD operate from within that structure.
CFD also wanted one of the PFD trucks to be transferred to the Cavendish Fire House. Parkington suggested that this demand was the result of CFD having substandard equipment in their own department.
The PFD statement concludes with “While this may seem extreme, there is sound reasoning and hard facts behind our position. Information in the form of a fact sheet and relevant state statues will be available on request at the Proctorsville Fire Department on Tuesday nights from 6-8 p.m. This statement regarding PFD’s position on a potential merger is not about personal agendas, feelings, or fairness. The members of Proctorsville Fire Department work to serve our townspeople and surrounding communities, not for pay or recognition but because there is a need and we enjoy helping people. This is about doing a job – a serious, life or death job – doing it well and in the most reliable way possible. We will not, under any circumstances, entertain a proposal that would compromise our ability to provide this necessary service.”
Proctorsville Deputy Chief Bobby Glidden expressed his concern that current PFD membership would not be willing to work under leadership from CFD. “Our membership for numerous reasons over many years have serious safety concerns concerning the Cavendish leadership,” he said.
PFD offers ongoing training classes throughout the year and welcomes CFD members to participate but are frustrated that CFD does not participate in the training, which he feels would help them all work better together.
Another significant issue is the rate of unanswered calls by CFD. Over the last three years, according to PFD, Cavendish Fire Dept. has had approximately 40 missed calls. Because of this, Proctorsville Fire Dept. went on “automatic aid” three years ago, which means that Proctorsville responds to every fire call that Cavendish receives. Information obtained from dispatch out of Hartford, Vt., confirms that Cavendish Fire Dept. missed 27 fire calls in 2018, as well as 5 EMS calls, with no Cavendish trucks responding at all.
Proctorsville has missed no calls during the same timeframe and haven’t missed a call in Glidden’s memory of service over his 24 years. Glidden admits it’s difficult having CFD come in with merger demands “when we’re doing their job.”
According to Parkington, in addition, it’s added to their own department expenses with increased fuel costs as well as other expenses in answering these additional calls.
Part of the non-response issue is driven by the number of volunteers operating within the Cavendish Fire Dept. Their volunteer numbers are currently at seven. Conversely, Proctorville has 24 active volunteers and 12 junior firefighters between ages 12-17.
Firefighters have also left CFD and gone to volunteer at PFD. Ten firefighters have transferred from CFD to PFD in the last 12 to 15 years, with eight of them still in service with PFD. In the last year, five firefighters have made the switch.
Just this past weekend, volunteer firefighter Eric Burguist left the Cavendish Fire Dept. to join the Proctorsville crew. According to Burguist, who has 18 years of fire fighting experience, his departure followed a recent call in Cavendish, after which he was chastised by CFD personnel for calling for additional help from Proctorsville.
“Every time, I make a decision to ask for additional support [for safety reasons] I have experienced criticism from both supervisors and other volunteers at CFD,” he said. After this most recent episode, Burguist reached out to Proctorsville Fire Chief Bob Glidden to join his crew. “It’s been a long time coming,” Burguist said.
Burguist’s girlfriend, Sheila Wilson, who was formerly with CFD several years ago, also joined PFD.
Proctorsville Fire Dept. insists that they are open to a merger but will stick to their guns about their place at the helm. They feel that through their training, their staffing, and their equipment, they’ve earned that right. “We’ve proposed to them numerous times that our door is open and they can come up here and join our fire department and run one fire department under our command. We’re willing to do that,” Glidden said.
In a phone interview, Assistant Fire Chief of the Cavendish Fire Dept. Abraham Gross addressed the missed calls, commenting, “CFD appreciates the assistance from PFD and has offered to compensate them, which they magnanimously declined. Our personnel issues are why we believe the town of Cavendish would best be served by a unified district and eventually a single fire department.”