By Connie O'Connor
WESTFIELD - A local fire chief has been suspended from his duties.
After the Nov. 5 meeting of the Westfield Board of Fire Commissioners, and following an executive session, Fire Chief Stephen Pacanowski received an email stating that he was immediately suspended from his duties as chief of the Westfield Fire Department. No reasons for the suspension were given at the time. Pacanowski was told that he would be given a formal statement of the reason for the suspension in the future.
At the same time, according to a longtime firefighter, Jim Pacanowski was suspended from his duties as treasurer of the department. For the time being, bills are to be paid by newly appointed Assistant Fire Chief William Bills, working in conjunction with Village Treasurer Becky Paternosh.
On Thursday, Nov. 7 a special meeting of the fire department was called. Thirty-four of the approximately 50 members were present for the meeting, including Treasurer Pacanowski. According to one firefighter present at the meeting, the membership supported the suspended members, and no one seemed to know the possible reasons for the actions taken by the commission.
According to Bills, no further information was available as of Tuesday morning.
Debra Puckhaber, a village trustee as well as a member of the fire commission, said no information could be given out at this time, that the commission has consulted with an attorney, and that a hearing on the charges will be held at some point between 10 and 30 days from the time of the suspensions on the night of Nov. 5.
For the time being the work of the department continues normally, with the assistant chiefs covering the functions of the chief and of the treasurer. No action will be taken by the department until more information is available.
ELECTION NIGHT MEETING
After a cordial start to the Fire Commission meeting held on election night, sparks began to fly when the discussion turned to the allocation of funds raised by the department and the exempts.
The meeting began with Chair Barry Underwood thanking department members for their work on a weekend that had many firefighters lacking sleep, as the department responded to a major structure fire on Webster Road, followed by their assistance, with other local departments, at the Brocton Tri-Church parish blaze.
Corry Fleck was confirmed as the company's choice for assistant captain of the Citizen Hose Company. He was chosen by the membership with other new officers last month, but had been unavailable when other new officers were interviewed and appointed late in October.
When bills for payment were brought forward, Underwood commented that bills and requests for equipment expenditures need to be sent to the commission in advance of meetings so that commissioners have sufficient time to review them. A request for purchase of new radios led to the insistence by Underwood that the department provide the village with a complete inventory of all equipment now at the department.
The inventory is to include all functioning equipment assigned to each company, as well as any surplus or non-functioning equipment. Underwood commented that he was tired of making the request for this inventory, stating that all equipment belongs to the village, not to the fire department.
Bills stated that two of the four companies have completed their full inventory. Underwood then proposed, and the commission voted unanimously, to require the department to provide the completed inventory by Nov. 22. It was further agreed that the radio purchase will be delayed until the full equipment inventory has been completed, and it has been determined exactly what the requirements will be for radios to communicate with the Sheriff's Department and with the Fire Police.
Department fundraising was then brought up, which led to the statement by Underwood that the use of proceeds from any fundraising event should be determined in advance of the event. A discussion followed about the use of Ottaway Park, with some firefighters objecting to the payment of a fee for their summer event. The fee was paid equally by the department and by the exempts, and was incurred because the exempts are a private entity, unlike the department. Underwood expressed his view that the department should not have paid 50 percent of the use fee, but department members insisted that it was their decision to do so. Former Mayor Dave Carr stated that the department and the exempts are not permitted, under current regulations, to commingle funds.
As the heat in the room subsided, Ed Kneer commented that Bills did an excellent job of running a recent department meeting, adding that much business was accomplished.
Jerry Ruch noted that four firefighters were scheduled to graduate from the Firefighter 1 course offered through the New York State Division of Homeland Security. The course is required of all new firefighters to reach the minimal certification level.
It was suggested by Commissioner Jon Belcher that the option of EMS-only membership in the department should be better publicized in the community. Some department members expressed concern that this could cause a loss to the department if members were to choose this option.
The planned committee which is slated to work with a consultant to forge better relations between the department and the commission had yet to meet, and no one had received the complete list of the members' names. Some firefighters present were concerned that the membership as a whole had not had the opportunity to select members for the committee.