Editor’s Note: The following letter is in response to a letter written by Cliff Brown of the Westfield Volunteer Fire Department which appeared in the Dunkirk OBSERVER on March 11. Brown’s letter is also included in this week’s edition of the newspaper.
In response to the opinion expressed by Cliff Brown, a member of the Fire Department of Westfield, dated March 11, 2011, I would like the chance to set the record straight.
His opinion starts off by stating that the Mayor, with support from the village board, is looking at changing the bylaws of the department for his own purpose. This is not the case. The fire officers of the department, over the past few years, have increasingly felt frustrated with the increasing animosity and hostility within our own membership.
Firefighting has changed over time, which means that operations need to change also. This has had a profound affect on the fire officer leadership, which gets compromised and has not allowed the fire officers to perform their job efficiently, as this has not been common practice in the past. Simply stated, “The fire department’s progress has been impeded by tradition.”
With that being said, the fire officers have asked for help from the Mayor’s office and the village board. In the opinion of the fire officers, the current way in which the fire department operates has not been effective. The concept of creating a Board of Fire Commissioners was the result of a collaborative effort from the upper management of the fire department, the Mayor’s office and the Board of Trustees. Mr. Brown states that, “The governance structure of the department is being changed, whereby the control of the department, except at calls, will fall directly on the Mayor.” This is, in fact, not the case. The Board of Fire Commissioners will consist of a five person board comprised of two village board members, two members from the fire department and one independent person, as appointed by the Mayor’s office according to New York State Municipal Law.
Mr. Brown’s next concern is in regards to all funds now going to the village coffers, and the Board of Commissioners will determine what and how much the department will get. This is incorrect, also. To clarify this point, the money that the Board of Fire Commissioners will be accounted for is what was budgeted from the tax levy. The memorial fund is a fund derived from the community sending donations to the fire department in honor of a deceased family member or friend. This account is currently in control of the rescue squad, which is comprised of members from within the fire department, and requires approval of its membership of all disbursements. In many instances, this group has voted against purchasing equipment with memorial fund monies, instead recommending that purchases should come from the village budget. The Board of Fire Commissioners will actively work to utilize current and future donations for purchases in a more efficient manner.
The fire department is grateful to all those who have donated to the fund and in the past and look forward to future donations being received. Also, the individual fire companies within the fire department will maintain their funds and will be able to spend it in any fashion they choose. The individual company funds are derived from such activities as the waffles in the park fundraiser during the arts and crafts show and the annual bridge cleaning conducted during springtime.
We, the fire officers of the fire department, encourage everyone, should you have further questions, to attend the public hearing that is scheduled for Monday, March 21 at 7 p.m. at Eason Hall.
Stephen Pacanowski is 1st Assistant Chief of the Westfield Volunteer Fire Department.