Study to assess Arlington Fire Dept.


ARLINGTON — The Select Board voted this week to issue a letter of support for a soon-to-commence study of the Arlington Fire Department.

Arlington Fire Protection, the nonprofit entity that owns the two stations used by the department and serves as the department's fundraising arm, has retained Municipal Resources, Inc., a New Hampshire-based firm, to provide an "outside overview" of the department's operations, Chief Jamie Paustian told the board at a meeting on Monday, according to GNAT-TV footage.

"We need an unbiased opinion" on the department's future, Paustian said at the meeting, citing concerns about a decline in volunteers.

In a subsequent interview, the chief said he hopes the study will offer ideas related to recruitment and retention for the department, which serves Arlington, Sunderland and Sandgate.

The consultancy will assess whether the department has equipment suitable for its call volume, call types and distances traveled, according to a copy of the agreement between the nonprofit and the consultancy. It will also address whether the town of Arlington should assume ownership of the two stations, located at 41 Berwal Road and 184 Old Mill Road.

The department's report for 2017 mentions that the East Arlington firehouse "has become a challenge in terms of safety, location (flood zone), and space." In the future, it continues, "we are in need of more training space, office space, an exercise area, equipment storage, and larger truck bays with an exhaust system, updated computer/internet access, and community space for local functions."

No longer owning the buildings might lessen the need to help fundraise to support their ongoing maintenance, Paustian said in an interview.

The study will assess whether transferring the properties to the municipality would require approval from Arlington Fire Protection's donors or the Vermont Attorney General, according to the agreement.

The study will also consider whether a joint fire and emergency medical services building should be established.

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Board members on Monday said they were open to discussing the possibility of the town taking over the firehouse properties and also expressed support for the study's intent.

"It's to your credit that you're willing to ask for expert help and consider things that are hard to have to consider," board member and state Rep. Cynthia Browning said during the meeting.

Chairman Keith Squires requested copies of monthly bills related to the fire stations' operations.

The company responded to 158 calls last year, its highest-ever call volume, Paustian said, adding that it responded to most of those calls with fewer than 10 members.

The Municipal Resources study, which will cost $21,000, is expected to start this spring and last about four to five months.

The town of Arlington's proposed 2020 budget allocates $220,693 to the department.

Arlington Fire Protection, the nonprofit entity, hosts an annual summer carnival at the Arlington Recreation Park as part of its fundraising efforts.

The department has continued to explore the purchase of a truck to replace "our oldest apparatus, a 1990 custom pumper," Paustian wrote in a message included in Sunderland's 2019 town report. "This process averages [two] years of time including meetings with manufacturers, trips to inspect other trucks nearby, putting out proposals for bids and build time for the winning manufacturer." The replacement apparatus is expected to cost between $510,000 and $530,000.

Jim Sullivan, executive director of the Bennington County Regional Commission, said a decline in volunteer support and resources for rural and small-town fire departments and rescue squads is an issue in the region and in much of Vermont.

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