Cavendish Fire District 2 gets approval to hire EMTs at annual meeting

CAVENDISH, Vt. – Cavendish Fire District 2 proposed a complete shift in the direction of their service at their annual meeting Monday, Feb. 3 by proposing the hiring of a full-time or two part-time EMTs, raising their budget over 32% to $108,698. The Cavendish Fire Department is currently manned only by volunteers.

The Cavendish Town Office was standing room only, well-attended by Cavendish residents with supporters and detractors of the proposal split evenly in the audience.

Acting Cavendish Fire Chief Abe Gross said that the volunteer system is in collapse. “There’s too much to do and not enough people stepping up,” he said. They need more people so they either need to hire them or recruit 8-10 more volunteers.

After approval of the 2019 minutes and electing officers to the Prudential Committee, the governing board of the Cavendish Fire Department, a motion was made to approve the entire amount. Before that motion proceeded to a vote, resident Peter LaBelle made a motion to approve a lesser amount of $65,210 – the amount after the two EMT salaries and their benefits were removed from the budget.

Jason Nareau, a volunteer with Cavendish Fire Department, said that volunteer service fire departments are crashing across the country and this is a position they need to fill if they want the town protected. He said that more and more, small departments are a combination of paid and volunteer staff.

Cavendish resident and town bookkeeper Jen Leak made the point that a 40-hour per week position would not equate to 24/7 coverage and didn’t see how that would help Cavendish residents.

Diane McNamara confirmed that this proposal and the added EMT positions would not replace the town’s agreement with Ludlow Ambulance, which costs the town about $45,000 per year. Ludlow Ambulance recently upgraded to 24/7 coverage and has made improvements to both service coverage and response times since that began in October of 2019.

Gross said that this service would be supplemental to Ludlow and that they were needed for patient transport but that the Cavendish EMTs would be responding to all types of calls, fire or medical. Gross also spoke about several incidents where he was the only volunteer who responded and, without two people, was unable to respond to a call. This would help to fill the gap by providing additional coverage, particularly during the day according to Gross.

Once the lesser amount of $65,210 went for a vote on the floor, the “yeas” and “nays” seemed even and the vote proceeded to a paper ballot. Once counted, the vote was a tie, which, according to the meeting moderator, constitutes a no vote. A motion to approve the full amount was made and the vote was passed.

Funds that were in a truck fund account, totaling approximately $22,000, were then approved to be applied to the budget, reducing the amount needed to be raised by taxes. The amount needed to be raised was finalized at $86,504.

Before the meeting closed, Town Manager Brendan McNamara brought residents up to speed on the latest from a mediator who has been hired by the town to move forward to possibly merge the two fire departments in town. According to McNamara, the mediator had responded, saying he was looking at possible date this week to meet with both Prudential Committee members. Neither of the Prudential Committees had heard from the mediator however, and McNamara said he would serve as point person to coordinate the effort.

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