BELGRADE — Residents of Belgrade and Rome will have the chance to weigh in about the possibility of merging their fire and rescue departments.

“What they’re trying to do is (find out) what the community at large would like to see from their fire and EMS services,” said Belgrade Town Manager Dennis Keschl. 

A committee studying the potential merger will create a questionnaire that will be sent to residents, along with a letter telling them about the financial strain the fire departments are experiencing.

Keschl provided the letter to each of the town’s selectmen at Tuesday’s regular meeting.

“It can no longer be guaranteed that when a call is placed, a local response will take place,” the letter states.

It also notes the physical demands of the departments are significant, and there is need for recruiting younger members when, at the same time, aging populations add a strain to rescue departments.

“As communities make a concerted effort to support aging in place, these medical needs and safety consideration grow,” the letter states.  

The discussion about merging the departments is being addressed because of concerns about better service to residents and because of a dwindling number of firefighters. The feasibility of merging the fire and rescue departments is being studied by community members from the two towns; the towns provide mutual aid to each other.

Around 30 volunteers were protecting Belgrade when the committee was formed. According to Rome’s website, the rescue squad has nine active members while the fire department has 14.

The questionnaire asks if residents feel comfortable with the current level of fire and rescue coverage, whether residents would be willing to pay for full-time fire and rescue employees, and other questions. Residents can show their feelings on a questions by rating between 1 and 10, and they can provide comments.

The study committee will tabulate the responses in order to move forward with discussions, Keschl said. 

The questionnaire will be available to Rome residents at its election on Friday, at the Town Meeting Saturday and on the town’s website. In Belgrade, it will be available at the Town Meeting on March 16 and then in the town office.

Belgrade selectmen also discussed the possibility for charging an accident fee for emergency response, which would be recouped from insurance companies.

If the town started doing this, Selectman Ernst Merckens suggested using these fees to pay any potential new staff.

“We may need to increase turnout costs (for volunteers), and anything we can get to cover that can help,” he said.

The town employs Travis Burton as a full-time firefighter and paramedic. Burton has been working for the department since 2014.

Lastly, selectmen also discussed the fire department’s access to residences on private roads, which aren’t always plowed or maintained for large equipment.

“Even if you don’t have the ordinance, what do you do?” Keschl asked. “You don’t get to the fire.”

They agreed to explore the necessity of an ordinance that would provide standards for private drives and see if other towns have created such ordinances and how they’re formulated.


Abigail Austin — 621-5631
[email protected]
Twitter: @AbigailAustinKJ

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