The topic of this article will deal with the activities concerning the fire department and the Exempt Firemen’s Association. There has been a lot of confusion in the past few years regarding the connection between the two groups. First of all, the fire department is a department of the Village of Westfield, just as is the water department, electric department, water department, waste water department and the recreation department. The main difference is that the fire department is made up of volunteers, whereas the other Village departments are paid employees.
The members of the fire department contribute many hours of volunteer time responding to all types of emergencies. These include fires, automobile accidents, ambulance calls, plus many times for assisting the electric or street departments during snow storms, floods or wind storms. During these calls, the fire department are volunteers assisting paid employees. Many of these emergencies occur while you and I are snug in our beds, eating dinner, watching TV or playing with the children or grandchildren. There are several fire department volunteers with 40+ years and several more with 30+ years.
The Exempt Firemen’s Association is the social branch of the fire department. The Exempt Association has no authority over the governing of the fire department. They are established under Section 200 of the General Municipal Law. The law states that exempt status is granted to a firefighter who has at least five years membership in the department. In the Westfield Fire Department, anyone who joins the department is immediately made a member of the Exempt Association. In the past, our fire department has had a Board of Wardens who were all members of the Exempt Association, so the Exempt Association ran the department. This is no longer the case.
Having said all of this, I would like to quantify the difference between the fire department and the Exempt Association. Article 10 Section 1000 of the New York State Village Law describes the necessary procedure for forming a volunteer fire department. When these regulations are adopted and passed by a resolution of the members of a Village Board, the fire department then becomes a Village department. The Westfield Fire Department was established in 1872. When a fire department has been established, there are different methods by which a department can be governed. The Village Board can administer the department with a fire council assisting; or another option, the Village Board may form a Board of Fire Commissioners who will supervise the department, in which case there will be no fire council.
In the spring of this year the Village Board decided to form a Board of Fire Commissioners. This was done at the request of the fire chiefs and some of the officers of the department. At the regular Village Board meeting on February 22, 2011, it was determined that a Board of Fire Commissioners should be established. A public hearing was set for March 22, 2011. The public hearing was held and it was determined that the Board of Fire Commissioners should be established. State Law requires that the mayor appoint three of the five members of the Board of Fire Commissioners. I appointed Rick Raynor as a representative of the Village Board, Dave Spann to represent the Westfield Town Board and Barry Underwood to represent the residents who were mutually agreed upon by the line officers of the fire department. The charge for the Board of Fire Commissioners is to oversee the operations of the fire department.
The funding of the Westfield fire department has historically been a line item in the Village budget, generally in the amount of $100,000 to $140,000. This line item account is based on property assessment in both the Village and the Town. At the present time this is about a 50-50 split between the two bodies.
Major equipment has been purchased from an equipment reserve fund that has been established with a special line item contribution from both the Village and the Town of Westfield. This reserve fund has enabled the fire department to purchase a new pumper tanker, a new ambulance and a ladder truck that was partially funded with a FEMA grant. The department was also able to purchase new turn out gear for members, which was partially funded by a FEMA grant. Total cost of the recent new equipment is in excess of $1 million. These grants were prepared by an active member of the fire department who did an excellent job doing the research needed for the grants to be awarded. The Exempt Association, to my knowledge, has never assisted in the purchase of new equipment. Even after the many hours spent by members of the department at the annual Ox Roast, and the numerous chicken and rib barbecues held at the Exempt Hall.
A fire department or a company within the fire department may hold fundraisers to benefit that fire department, or a specific company within the fire department. It is necessary for the department or company to obtain permission from the Board of Fire Commissioners to hold a fundraiser. They must inform the Board of Fire Commissioners of the date, type of fundraiser to be held and the purpose of the fundraiser. Any profits from this activity will then be distributed to the intended department or company.
These funds are not deposited into the Village Fire Department account.
The Exempt Association sponsors the yearly Ox Roast along with the occasional chicken/rib barbecues at the Exempt Hall. These funds are deposited in the Exempt Firemen’s account.
However, the members of the fire department are also allowed to hold a fundraiser with the proceeds to be used towards the purchase of new equipment.
These funds are then designated for a specific purchase and they are then deposited into the Village Fire Department’s equipment reserve account. By State Law, any monies in the equipment reserve account cannot be spent for any other purpose.
In the six years that I have been mayor, the fire department has not held any type of fundraiser for the purpose of purchasing new equipment. Some of the members of the department are of the opinion that if the street department and the electric department employees do not hold fundraisers for new vehicles, why should the volunteers? Most of the neighboring volunteer fire departments have different activities as a method of raising funds for new equipment to lessen the tax burden on the residents.
I would also add that the fall newsletter sent out by the Exempt Association to raise funds goes directly to the Exempt Association, not the fire department.
In my six years as mayor, I have never been notified of any contribution from the Exempt Association to the fire department.
In closing, I would like to thank all of the volunteer members of our fire department for the countless hours of training and the untold hours of responding to calls of all kinds, and under all kinds of weather conditions. The Village of Westfield is privileged to have this dedicated group of volunteers.
Mayor of the Village of Westfield