G’town fire district research plan douses spending speculation

GERMANTOWN—Word on the street here was that the Board of Fire Commissioners for Germantown Hose Company No. 1—the town’s only fire company—was looking to spend a lot of money on new trucks and a computer system. This came up at the January 19 Town Board meeting and was overheard at the January 21 meeting of the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Roy Brown, chairman of the Fire Commissioners, nixed the rumor. “We’re not running out and buying equipment,” he said last week. “We have formed a committee,” he said, consisting of two commissioners, two chiefs and two fire company members. The committee is looking at “all the equipment we currently have and will put together a comprehensive truck and equipment purchase plan for the next 10 to 20 years.”

In March 2014 the state Comptroller’s Office issued an audit report of the Germantown Fire District that criticized the district for keeping too much money in reserves without a plan for use of the money.

Now, said Mr. Brown, “we’re doing research to try to catch up to where we’re supposed to be.”

The truck reserve fund stands at $258,358, district treasurer Kerrie Abela said Monday.

The committee is talking to apparatus manufacturers and has met with one dealer so far. They plan to visit neighboring fire departments and discuss their recent purchases.

The goal is to have information to present to the commissioners, the fire company and the public in June or July.

Budgeted at $8,300 is an upgrade of the computers in the chief’s office and the district office—but not the company office, Mr. Brown wrote in an email Tuesday. “That includes the hardware and software for the Rover Mobile Response (RMR) system, a new computer system for the chief’s and the district’s office. The proposed package includes backups, installation, wiring and set up of the RMR.

Currently the district has two computers, one each in the district office and the chief’s office that uses the Windows XP operating system and one more in the district office that uses Windows 98. Microsoft no longer supports those software platforms.

Ms. Abela mentioned that her computer dates from 1999 or earlier, but that she likes it and is not eager to change. She also said that the district has the money on hand for the new computer system.

Commissioner Patrick Ebling balked at the computer cost at Monday’s meeting of the fire commissioners. The company had answered 71 fire calls in 2015, he said; dividing the calls into the 2015 budget resulted in a cost of $641 per call.

The 2016 budget is $291,000. Assuming the same number of calls in 2016 and adding in the cost of the new computer system, the cost per call would be $796.

“I can’t bring that to the taxpayers,” said Mr. Ebling.

A decision on the new computer system was tabled until the February 29 meeting.

Germantown Hose Company No. 1, founded in 1908, has “approximately 34 firefighters who participate in the department at various times,” Mr. Brown said after the meeting. “On average I believe we have 10 to 12 firefighters that show up to a call. As with most departments, the bulk of our volunteers work during the day, straining the number of people responding to the calls.

To help address that strain, the company has been testing a Smartphone app called Spotted Dog. With one click, a firefighter can indicate that he or she is on the way, to the firehouse or the fire scene. “This is a valuable tool in my opinion,” said Mr. Brown, “especially with the declining numbers of volunteers.” The tool helps assess response to calls, leading to faster decisions on calling for mutual aid from neighboring districts.

In other business at their January 25 meeting, the commissioners:

  • Accepted two new members into the company
  • Heard a presentation from Mark Fingar of Fingar Insurance regarding the district’s insurance, which is due for renewal March 1. Fingar would insure the building and its contents for $1.4 million, not including firefighting apparatus and trucks. Liability insurance (“slips and falls”) would be for $1 million, the pavilion insured for $10,000, all with a $1,000 deductible. The premium would be $17,696, an increase of $224 over last year
  • Noted the following February meetings, all at 7 p.m. in the firehouse on Main Street/County Route 8: Fire Company, February 2; Truck/Equipment Committee, February 8; Commissioners, February 29.

All five commissioners and an audience of six attended the two-hour meeting.

 

 

 

 

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