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Suncook Valley Regional Town Assn. MInutes 10/02/2008
Suncook Valley Regional Town Association
Meeting Minutes

Meeting Date:   October 2, 2008
Minutes Prepared By:  Bruce Dyke
In Attendance:  Jim Barnard ñ Town of Pittsfield - Selectman
                          Lisa Drouse ñ Chichester Town Organization Committee
                           Bruce Dyke ñ Chichester Town Organization Committee
                          Norm LaRochelle ñ Chichester Town Organization Committee
    Allen Mayville ñ Chichester Town Organization Committee
               Gordon Preston ñ Town of Barnstead ñ Selectman
               Joanne Randall ñ Town of Epsom - Selectman
     Ed Vien ñ Town of Pittsfield ñ Selectman
Location:  Chichester Selectmanís Office Conf. Room
Minutes Approved: 12/4/08

        -    The meeting was called to order at 7:00 by Bruce Dyke

  • Bruce Dyke welcomed the group back for the sixth meeting of the Suncook Valley Regional Town Association.   For the benefit of individuals attending from surrounding towns, Bruce provided a brief overview of the SVRTAís background and intended purpose.
  • The draft minutes of the August 20, 2008 meeting were reviewed and comments/changes were solicited.  A motion was made by Ed Vien to accept the minutes as presented and seconded by Gordon Preston.  The minutes were approved by the group in a 6 to 0 vote, with one member abstaining.
  • Bruce turned the meeting over to Ed Vien, who introduced Pittsfieldís Fire Chief, Gary Johnson.  Chief Johnson had volunteered to put together a high-level presentation regarding possible regionalization of fire/rescue services for the benefit of the group.  Mr. Vien explained that the group had already seen some good success in collaborative efforts, especially with regard to the most recent health-insurance arragement with LGC.  Beyond that, he also noted the that group has covered a wide range of collaborative topics thus far, with fire/rescue being one of them.
  • Chief Johnson spent approximately one hour going through his slide presentation which discussed the role of fire/rescue departments, the types of departments that typically exist (full volunteer, full-time/paid or mix of both) as well as typical ìpros and consî of collaborative arrangements.  He noted that regional fire/rescue departments are more common outside of the New England area and in many cases, are county-based arrangements.  His presentation also included an example model of how a regional fire/rescue collaborative might be structured for multiple towns such as the ones represented by the SVRTA.  
During and immediately after the presentation, meeting participants added comments and questions which included:

  • Gordon Preston ñ who talked about the realities of small town/rural volunteer fire departments and the fact that in many cases, structure fires will usually result in a total loss.  This might be due to any combination of bad roads, long distances, lack of fire hydrants or slower overall responses (due to volunteers who may not be near the station or scene of the incident). This was in comparison to ambulance services, where given better technology and training that now exists, there is a better likelihood of saving lives if resources are more readily available.  His point being that if towns/collaboratives wanted to invest in fire/rescue, there would be a better cost/benefit by having full-timer rescue services vs. full-time fire fighters in terms of ensuring priority response of one over the other.
  • Jim Barnard added to Gordonís point with respect to the fact that many houses in the area are older and more prone to allowing fires to spread more quickly that typically is the case with newer construction.
  • Gordon Preston and Jim Barnard both commented on the current strain on town budgets and the inability for many towns to enhance their service levels on their own.  
  • Gordon stated that he felt the current economic situation in particular would start to force regionalization discussions among many towns.
  • Bruce Dyke asked Chief Johnson what his thoughts were on the likelihood of a regional fire/rescue department of qualifying for grants compared to individual towns.  Although there was no specific data to provide, Chief Johnson felt that departments with a larger coverage region might be better positioned to receive grants.
  • Bruce also asked about the impact a regional fire/rescue department was likely to have on volunteer rates, which generated a fair amount of discussion among the attendees.  The general feeling voiced by other Fire Chiefs present at the meeting (including Stuart Yeaton - Epsom, Kevin Madison ñ Northwood, Gil Vien ñ Chichester) was that regionalization could negatively impact volunteer rates, especially in situations where a department is structured with a mix of full-time and volunteer staff.  There was further discussion along those lines with comments concerning existing issues with ìmixedî departments that exist today.  
  • Overall discussion regarding volunteer rates continued.  Chief Johnson pointed out how societal issues have changed the climate with regard to the flexibility of being able to volunteer for a fire/rescue department.  Committee members and other attendees pointed out examples including the fact that many people work farther from home and many employers arenít willing to let staff go during their shift to respond to calls.  It was noted that the employees of State of NH government who were on fire/rescue departments used to be allowed to leave their job to respond to calls, but that is no longer the case.
  • Mike Paveglio noted that a regional fire/rescue department would likely offer a better level of legal protection and reduced liability to towns compared to individual volunteer departments.
  • Jim Barnard also noted the potential for centralized code enforcement which not only would reduce costs, but improve consistency and also help reduce any liability exposure.
  • Dick Wright noted that each town has different needs based on demographics and geography and that any regional structure/model would have look closely at such needs.
  • Chief Johnson concluded his presentation by re-iterating the fact that his overview was intended only to initiate a dialogue on this topic and help educate SVRTA towns regarding the potential opportunity.  He also stated that he felt any attempt to regionalize would like take a number of years and would require further investigation with respect to legal requirements (which might also include the need for specific legislation to be drafted/passed).  He also noted that such decisions are driven by cost and value discussions within each community.
  • Bruce Dyke thanks Chief Johnson for his time and efforts in preparing his presentation for the benefit of the SVRTA.
  • Ed Vien noted that several of local fire chiefs/public safety personnel were present for the meeting, and all attendees joined Ed in taking the opportunity to thank them all for their dedicated service to our respective communities.
  • John Martell asked Bruce Dyke if the meeting had been posted as there was apparently some confusion about its location.  Bruce confirmed that an e-mail had been sent to Committee members, Chichesterís Selectmen and the meeting had been posted in two locations in Town.  Joann Randall also noted this meeting had been posted in a local paper.
  • John Martell also asked if a member of Chichesterís Board of Selectmen was part of the SVRTA and attended the meetings.  Bruce indicated that Selectman Jordon typically attends the SVRTA meetings, but was out of town for this particular week.
  • Chichesterís Fire Chief Gil Vien noted that he is not in favor of a regionalized fire/rescue arrangement, but stated heíd support it if that was the will of the townspeople.  He felt that such arrangements usually donít work and referred back to an earlier discussion point regarding mixing paid and volunteer staff, which is often a source of issues within departments.
  • Norm LaRochelle noted that we should be able to look at past failures and challenges in order to understand what went wrong and make necessary adjustments.
  • Lisa Drouse mentioned the constructive arrangement that has existed with Loudon for shared ambulance service for many years.  Gil acknowledged that has worked fairly well, but noted there may be issues with that arrangement in the future, since Loudon is considering expanding their level of staffed coverage.
  • Ed Vien suggested that a sub-committee would likely be required to properly investigate the option for regionalized fire/rescue.  Bruce Dyke agreed and added that any collaborative arrangement should be phased-in over time and might or might not reach the level of regionalization defined in Chief Johnsonís presentation.
  • Bruce Dyke noted that Stephen Leighton, Chairman of Straffordís Board of Selectmen was present and welcomed him to the meeting.  Bruce explained that after Strafford had joined the SVRTAís joint health insurance initiative, he contacted Straffordís Board to see if they had an interest in officially participating in the group.  Mr. Leighton indicated that Strafford was very interested in participating and Joanne Randall made a motion that the Town of Strafford be allowed to join the SVRTA.  The motion was seconded by Ed Vien and approved unanimously.  Bruce welcomed Mr. Leighton and his town to the group.
  • The next meeting will be Thursday, December 4, 2008 at 7pm and is expected to be held at the Strafford Town Hall.
  • The meeting adjourned at 9:00pm.

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