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Fire Chief says department faces staffing shortage

PUTNEY—Putney Fire Chief Thomas Goddard warned town officials his department has a serious staffing shortage and that “the system that’s in place is not working well.”

Goddard told the Selectboard at its Aug. 26 regular meeting the Fire Department is “barely getting by” with its current number of volunteer firefighters.

“The way things are, it’s not going to last,” he said, explaining that “every year our call volume is increasing,” but “every year we lose people."

Although he told the board his department has gained a few more volunteers during the previous year, some members have moved or taken full-time jobs outside the community. “Their availability has decreased dramatically,” Goddard said.

He noted this is not a new problem, and the last few fire chiefs before Goddard were challenged to find and keep enough volunteer firefighters.

The chief said he has “no agendas” other than working collectively “to figure out what’s going to work, and how we’re going to get it implemented.”

Goddard said he came to the Selectboard meeting to get the conversation started.

“As the department head, I’m wide open to anything,” he said.

Board member Joshua Laughlin suggested “we could do more in working to recruit volunteers,” but admitted “I don’t know if that’s going to solve the issue.” He noted other towns seem to have an easier time getting and retaining firefighters. Still, convincing volunteers to complete the extensive training is a challenge.

Goddard assured the board “I do everything I can to get the word out."

The board, Town Manager Cynthia Stoddard, audience members, and Goddard discussed the challenge of relying on — and burning out — the same group of locals who volunteer for a variety of committees and functions, and how to bring in new people.

Establishing a “junior firefighter” program, holding a volunteer job fair, and tabling at the town’s community suppers were a few ideas offered.

Goddard recommended starting with the Public Safety Committee, then have public meetings to get the word out. At the Aug. 26 meeting, the Board appointed two new members to that committee: Eric McGowan and Marc Fellows.

Board Chair Stephen Hed said the Public Safety Committee plans to meet in mid-September.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #322 (Wednesday, September 9, 2015). This story appeared on page D2.

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