Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Town of Cavendish Fire Districts History

Murdock Mill Fire in Proctorsville
At the Nov. 16, 2015 Fire District # 2 (Cavendish) Informational Meeting, regarding the proposal to replace two engines with one new one, there was considerable discussion about the town's need for two fire districts. To better understand the present situation, the following historical information is being provided based on information from Barbara Kingsbury’s book “Chubb Hill Farm and Cavendish, Vermont” and Margo Caulfield’s digital Cavendish Update.

1833: Proctorsville Volunteer Fire Dept. (PVFD) formed-Fire District #1

1883: Cavendish Volunteer Fire Dept. (CVFD) formed-Fire District #2

1944: There was a fire at the town garage on Feb 10. This was in Cavendish Village behind the Town Hall, but the Vermont Tribune reported, “ The Proctorsville Fire Co was soon at the scene and lines of hose were also strung from Gay Bros. Mill...” Cavendish village was Fire District #2 but it did not then have much equipment nor a well-organized volunteer force. Gay Brothers Mill used their own equipment to help fight fires near the mill. For several years, Fire District #1 had had better equipment and a more structured volunteer group under the direction of its fire chief, Nelson Holland. By the early 1930’s, Proctorsville had a Women’s Auxiliary, which helped raise money for a truck and garage.

Late 1940s: Milton “Mike" Dickerman, fire chief for District #2 during this time remembers Cavendish village still didn’t have much equipment. One of his main responsibilities was to check that fire extinguishers were in working order. For years, there ha been ladders and buckets stored at three or four strategic locations in or near Cavendish village. Dickerman did not think they were used much in this period except when the barn next to the Roger and Walter Buck house caught fire on Oct. 28, 1949. The barn and house were adjacent to the Universalist Church on Main Street. One of the storage sites for fire-fighting equipment was on the bank above the church. Men from the village formed a “bucket-brigade” but the Vermont Tribune credits the Proctorsville Fire Department and help from Gay Brothers Mill for putting out the fire.

1957: Art Briggs became the fire chief of District # 2 and served in that capacity for the next 30 years. He had received training and experience fighting fires in the Army Air Force during WWII. Under his direction, the volunteer firemen became a well organized group with regular drills, and District #2 Fire Department was legally incorporated. An active Auxiliary was formed. CVFD consisted of a portable pump, a trailer, and one thousand feet of hose. An old Army truck (with four wheel drive) was purchased for $500 and another $500 was spent to outfit it.

This was the year of the Hawks Mountain fire. On May 7, the fire started on the Cavendish side of the mountain and spread to Perkinsville. The National Guard, fire departments and volunteers were all called to help. It took until May 9 before the fire was finally under control. The Town Report lists $16,699.54 as the cost for fighting this fire. 
Cavendish Fire Feb. 2014

2005: The following is from the Cavendish Update:
April 12 The Selectmen’s Meeting on Monday, April 11, had the following agenda item, “Follow up to discussion at the Annual Town Meeting wherein the status of the two Cavendish Fire Districts was discussed by the voters in attendance and the voters urged action. A question for discussion is whether legislative body (Select Board) action is required or is appropriate and desired at this time. Discussion to include the status of the two districts at present. Copies of relevant state statue sections will be available as reference.”

Cavendish currently has two fire districts, one in Cavendish (which operates with nine volunteers) and the other in Proctorsville (which operates with 24 volunteers).  Considerable discussion took place regarding the lack of coverage in Cavendish. Currently, dispatch to Cavendish goes through the “red phone,” which is located in various volunteer’s homes and the town office. Because no one source of phone coverage is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, there have been difficulties alerting Cavendish volunteers. Further, several of the holders of the red phone are now volunteers for Proctorsville. In short, there is a real problem with dispatching in Cavendish, which could have dire consequences.

Proctorsville operates out of Ludlow’s dispatch.  In the event that Proctorsville does not immediately respond to a call, Ludlow provides backup.

Proctorsville Fire January 2014
Copies of the Secretary of State’s Book of Opinions on Fire Districts and Fire Departments was made available. After considerable discussion, it was agreed that the select board is ultimately responsible for providing fire protection. To that end, the first order was to figure out an immediate solution to the “red phone” issue in Cavendish. The select board voted the following:
• The current fire line in Cavendish, 7823, should be rolled over to 911 as soon as possible (this needs to be cleared with state 911, and worked out with TDS). This means that if someone would dial the old Cavendish Fire number, their call would automatically go to a 911 dispatcher.  As 911 is the preferred method for contacting fire and rescue, and to reduce confusion if there are multiple callers for one incident, it was agreed that 911 be used, versus a roll over to Ludlow dispatch.
• Ludlow will be asked to provide dispatch for Cavendish. There will be a cost associated with this service, but it was felt to be more than justified
• Rich will be responsible for contacting the Secretary of State for confirmation that the select board can operate in this manner. Depending on confirmation, he will then contact TDS, Ludlow PVFD, and state 911 to arrange for Cavendish dispatch through Ludlow.

With a unanimous “straw vote” at town meeting regarding the combining of Fire Districts into one district, the select board voted to do the following:
• Confirm legality of strategy with Secretary of State
• Convene a planning meeting with Cavendish and Proctorsville Fire Departments (Prudential Boards and fire fighters) and the selectmen. Rolph Van Sheik will be asked to moderate the meeting. A date was set for April 18 (Monday), 6:30 pm at the Cavendish Town Elementary School in Proctorsville.  Note: This meeting may change due to availability of various parties. For meeting confirmation, contact the Town Office 226-7292.
• Hold a town informational meeting, where the proposed plan for a single fire district is presented and discussed.
• A town vote would follow to determine if voters want to continue with two fire districts or convert to one.

May 3: In response to the ongoing situation with fire service in Cavendish, the following petition is available for signature at Singletons, Crows Corner Bakery and Bennets Store:

“The undersigned voters of the Town of Cavendish hereby petition the Cavendish Board of Selectmen to hold a special town meeting for the purpose of having the legal voters of the town consider, by Australian Ballot, merging Cavendish Fire District # 1 and Cavendish Fire District #2 into one consolidated fire district for the town. This special Town Meeting will include a general session wherein the general public as well as Town and Fire District officials and Firemen may comment and ask questions.” By May 7, 70 signatures had been obtained.

May 23: The select board held a special meeting this evening to “continue discussion on the petition received on Monday May 9 with input from Town Counsel. A course of action on this petition is anticipated to be established and initiated. The subject petition asks for a Special Town Meeting vote on a merger of the two Cavendish Fire Districts.” The results of this meeting were as follows:
• Town Counsel felt that this was not a select board issue but rather one for the Fire Districts. As such, the select board rejected the petition.
• After discussion by select board and audience participants, it was made clear that:
a)     There is fire protection for the town of Cavendish, as Fire District 1 (Proctorsville) does respond to Cavendish fires. The problems with notification of fire fighters in Cavendish has been resolved.
b)    The issue of fire districts is not about the fire fighters, but rather the Prudential Boards that over see the fire districts.
c)     Fire District 1 (Proctorsville) feels they are operating quite well, but are being dragged into things because of problems with Fire District 2 (Cavendish).  There have been a number of fire fighters from Cavendish that have transferred to Proctorsville.
d)    It was noted, by a lister, who also serves on the Fire District 1 Prudential Committee, that the town property, as far as monetary value, is now split 2/3 non residents and 1/3 residents. What impact this will have on fire service remains to be seen.

• If change is to occur it has to happen at the Fire District level, particularly Fire District 2 (Cavendish). This can be done by petition, which would require 20 signatures of town voters that reside within Fire District 2.

• It is strongly recommended that residents attend fire district meetings on a monthly basis and participate in the annual meeting in February.

September 12: A request was recently made by the wife of a Cavendish volunteer fire fighter to inform Cavendish Update subscribers that Fire District 2 has 12 volunteers.


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