Cavendish Fire Dept. defends automatic mutual aid decision

mutual aid
Cavendish Volunteer Fire Department. Photo provided by Cavendish Fire Dept. Facebook page

CAVENDISH, Vt. – The Cavendish Fire Department has been under fire from town officials and residents with their recent decision to end a longstanding automatic mutual aid agreement with the Proctorsville Fire Department, a station that has 24 volunteers and is a mile away from their own.

Automatic aid means that when a call comes into the CFD, PFD is automatically called out as well. Despite changing the “automatic” nature of the relationship, Cavendish will continue with mutual aid, manually calling on Proctorsville when they deem it necessary.

Assistant Fire Chief Abraham Gross has defended the decision with a formal statement saying, “In the judgement of the new chief, Rebecca Nareau, pursuit of an improved relationship through automatic aid is, at this time, untenable, and not in the best interest for the public safety of the district we serve. Our priority is to maintain and increase our roster of highly trained and certified volunteers and supplement our staffing needs with paid personnel.”

When pressed about why continuing automatic aid with the PFD was “untenable,” Gross responded, “The position of the Cavendish Fire Department is to not comment negatively on the Proctorsville Fire Department.”

A recent social media post from Scott Ranney, a member of the Cavendish Fire District Prudential Committee, which is the governing body of the fire department, was more direct about CFD’s reasoning, posting, “…we backed off from using this other dept because of their continued abuse [of] our cavendish volunteers.” In the comments section of the post, he also called out Proctorsville Fire Chief, saying he was the “worst offender.”

Gross said that he had no comment on Ranney’s post but that he had not been aware of it. Ranney’s post has since been deleted.

Gross did reiterate that their priority is to increase and maintain their volunteer staff, which now stands at 12 volunteers. He said they work to limit the amount of time and minimize the amount of stress their volunteers are exposed to, which are keys to retention. Not willing to call out PDF specifically he said, “We’re concerned with how they’re treated by everybody.”

CFD maintains that safety will not be compromised with their decision. Gross said they will continue to call for mutual aid when mutual aid is needed, by Proctorsville as well as other local surrounding fire departments, and that the decision will be made based on the location of the call as well as other factors. For example, if there were a call at Knapp Pond, Reading Fire Department would be closer.

When asked if there might be a delay before a response went out for mutual aid, Gross responded, “I can’t think of a situation where that would happen.” He added that the two departments now share the same radio frequency so everyone is hearing calls as they come in, though they might not be alerted to respond.

Proctorsville Fire Department made the decision six months ago to stop their calls from automatically alerting CFD. Then acting Cavendish Fire Chief, Gross continued with the automatic mutual aid to Proctorsville as he continued to pursue a more amicable relationship despite PFD’s decision, which at the time, nullified a longstanding agreement between the two stations.

Once Nareau became fire chief, she led the decision to limit PFD as well, a decision that Gross supports. He said that although both he and Nareau came to a different conclusion, he had “absolute full support and trust in her decision.”

Proctorsville Fire Department Chief Robert Glidden had no comment on the recent decision made by Nareau and CFD.

Despite frustrated residents’ and the town’s concerns, neither the Selectboard, the town manager, nor any state agency has governance over the volunteer fire departments. They are governed by their own prudential committees.

Cavendish Town Manager Brendan McNamara confirmed the same saying, “We hope everybody works together. We want the best for our town. Period. But in terms of the fire districts, whether its Cavendish or Proctorsville, we have no control.”

A way to resolve the issue would be to merge the two departments – something that has been attempted several times throughout the history of the town – but those efforts have continued to fall short.

“It’s upsetting especially as a community member. You wish there was some resolution. It’s heartbreaking to see such animosity in your community. It’s tough,” said McNamara.

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