Rockingham, Saxtons River Support Grant To Study Local Fire Departments

Grant to assist the Bellows Falls Village Fire Department, the Rockingham Volunteer Fire Department, and the Saxtons River Volunteer Fire Department.
Photo provided by Bellows Falls Fire Department Facebook page

ROCKINGHAM, Vt. – In a recent Rockingham Selectboard meeting, the board agreed to match a $5,000 contribution that the Saxtons River Village had also contributed to in order to apply for a federal grant that will study the operations of three local fire departments; the Bellows Falls Village Fire Department, the Rockingham Volunteer Fire Department, and the Saxtons River Volunteer Fire Department.

According to Saxtons River Village Trustee Ellen Clark-Lawrence, who spoke at the meeting, the federal study would examine the totality of the three fire stations’ specific needs and situations, response times, and coverage area.

There is a growing concern in Saxtons River particularly because their fire station needs attention, as the second floor of the building has been condemned. The department receives funding from the Village of Saxtons River, but they do not pay their firefighters and they currently have staffing concerns. The town has been looking at the issue in recent years and has received building renovation estimates.

The Rockingham Volunteer Fire Department gets its funding from the town, as well as various fundraising efforts, while Bellows Falls pays for its fire department through village taxes. Bellows Falls is also the only department of the three that pays its firefighters, and has the only full-time paid fire chief, Shaun McGinnis.

Manpower within all three departments has been an ongoing issue and many agree it needs to be addressed. Because some firefighters are not allowed to leave their jobs during the day along with other circumstances, typically, the same few firefighters have been responding to a majority of the calls.

“Daytime coverage is difficult for everyone and more and more business owners are not letting employees leave, especially if employees of municipalities aren’t permitted to leave for calls,”  McGinnis said in a recent interview. “Each department needs to submit an accurate and updated list of manpower that includes age, qualifications, where they work, and the number of calls they respond to each year.”

When you compare Rockingham to other towns of similar size in the area, those towns have one fire department, whereas Rockingham has three within the town. Therefore, if there can’t be a merger of the three departments, they can still work towards communicating more and working together.

“It just makes more sense, especially financially,” McGinnis added. “We should focus on what is best for the community and not each individual department. Hopefully, this study can help guide us in the right direction.”

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