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Funding changes would hurt fire department

March 18, 2011
By Cliff Brown

The following is an open letter to the Westfield community:

The Fire Department of Westfield was founded in 1872 and has proudly served the community since then. When the department was founded, some very wise individuals drafted and implemented department bylaws to govern the operation of the department.

Those bylaws have been in effect for more than 139 years and, with minor changes over time, have served the department very well. Now, the mayor, with the support of the Village Board, wants to change those bylaws to serve his own purpose. These changes are not being made with the involvement of the department general membership or after careful deliberation on the long-term negative impact those changes will have.

Two quick examples will demonstrate the types of changes being proposed by the mayor and Village Board. First, the governance structure of the department is being changed, whereby the control of the department, except at calls, will fall directly on the mayor. To the best of our knowledge, the mayor has no experience in the fire service or fire service operations. This change will negatively impact the day-to-day operation of the department.

The second change involves the finances of the department. All funds will now go to the village coffers, and they will determine what and how much the department will get. This includes donations and memorial funds, funds that the membership puts directly back into operations by purchasing such needed equipment as AEDs and thermal imaging cameras. The list of items that the department has purchased over the years is tremendous and even includes the purchase of trucks, which have been donated to the village.

We are all volunteers. At a time when recruiting and retaining membership is at a critical point across the state and not just here, the proposed action of the mayor and board will have a significant negative impact on our membership rolls. Our department can carry 78 members according to our bylaws. We currently have 48 members or 62 percent of capacity. Who is going to want to volunteer extra time for fund-raising for the village? It’s hard enough to get the manpower when we are able to control where the funds go. The average fireman puts in conservatively more than 200 volunteer hours a year. If they are a member of the first aid squad, that number swells to more than 450 hours per year. That’s on average before fund-raising. That’s a lot of time away from our families.

We would also like to clarify a statement made in a recent political advertisement. While the ad claimed that more than $1 million in grant funds had been obtained by the village for the fire department, it was not mentioned that a member of the department actually wrote and guided that grant. Let’s give credit where credit is due.

Every member of the department carries their own pride for the service they provide for the community. It is a duty we all take seriously. There is always room for improvement, and that is why we continuously conduct drills and practice. We want to be the best we can be and we’re willing to work with the mayor and board toward that end, but in a positive and respectful manner.

At the end of the day, we all want to go home to our families.

Cliff Brown is a member of the Westfield Fire Department and the Past Chiefs’ Association



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