K&J – Earth Day / Fire Districts

With the idea of a fire district being discussed, some of the local fire departments have been weighing the pro’s and con’s. The town of Harrieststown, the Village of Saranac Lake, and the SLVFD had recently gotten together and mutually agreed to explore the possibility of forming a fire district. And in that process Brenndon Keogh, Chief of the SLVFD, says they had discussed the idea of forming a larger fire district and merging 3 departments, Paul Smiths Gabriel’s Vol Fire Department, Bloomingdale Fire Department and Saranac Lake Vol Fire Department into one. “One of the main advantages for possibly all of the departments is that the district board of commissioners would take a burden away from their respective municipalities and their sole goal would be to look out for the best interest of the departments providing the best possible service to it’s communities,” Keough said. One shared concern is the election of the board of commissioners. They would all be putting faith into one governing body and they want to be sure they can elect people who have all of their best interests in mind. 

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Tom Tucker is the President and Chief of Paul Smith Gabriel’s Fire Department. He feels he and his department are not entirely convinced the idea of a fire district is in their best interest. “We’re not going to be quick to jump on the bandwagon because once you get on, you cannot get off.”

Another concern the PSG department shared was in their way of fundraising efforts. Many of the assets they have acquired have been through private donations from residents in their area whom specifically had helped in the purchase of some of their equipment. They wish to be reassured their efforts and donations will stay where the donors had intended. They feel there is a possibility it may be reallocated to a district by the commissioners beyond their control and would in turn lose future donors.

Dan Whitson is the assistant Chief of Paul Smiths Gabriel’s Vol Fire Department and he feels with the strength of the community behind them, it’s a poor move to take away their say in the direction of the department.

Whitson says they have become an extremely important asset to the community just the way they are. “We are extremely blessed because have 30 active volunteer members with 9 new members currently in training. It’s a very small department but we have a very large membership that has come from the community to help move us forward.”

Jeff Santor is the Fire Chief of the South Plattsburgh Fire Department and he says they have been a part of a fire district since they were incorporated in 1959. “One of the main benefits I’ve found is the competition for limited funds is removed. Removing the stress of fundraising on the departments frees up more of their time,” Santor said, “There is less of an emphasis on fund raising in a fire district because the equipment purchases and repairs are funded by the tax base as opposed to the fundraising which gives the volunteer more time to train and respond to calls.” As for the concerns of the Departments regarding the election of the board of commissioners, Santor Says the key is in the leadership of the board. It is important for the board commissioner, the department chiefs and officers to be proactive together.

Ultimately, as with all three of the fire departments, there are questions yet to be answered.

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