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Alton Selectboard recommends against establishing fire wards

To the editor,
The Alton Board of Selectmen would like to address the petition warrant article to establish fire wards and the news release from the Alton Fire Association which states that the selectmen have not been responsive to the daytime staffing.
In reference to the news release, the selectmen would like to make it clear that we support our fire personnel and appreciate their time and effort. The release is inaccurate in stating the selectmen are unresponsive to department requests. Together with Chief Williams, we have been reviewing the need for changes in the department organization to meet the call demand. We recognize and share the concerns of the department regarding the lower number of members and their availability during daytime hours. Based n these concerns, the selectmen increased the fire chief's proposed budget line for advertising to increase membership. We have been discussing several options with the fire chief and have directed him to provide additional information before making any recommendations. At no time has the fire chief stated that calls are not being covered due to a lack of manpower.
In reference to the petition to organize the fire department under the fire wards, we do not recommend article #43 due to the legal and management problems it will create. By law the fire wards cannot be the governing body of the fire department as stated in the original petition wording. RSA 21 clearly states that the town has one governing body which is the selectmen. Budgeting and expenditures are not within the authority of the fire wards and would continue to be handled by the selectmen. Additionally RSA 154 states that the fire wards shall have the authority and the control to manage the fire department personnel and equipment which includes the authority to hire personnel. This is currently managed by the fire chief nominating personnel with the selectmen approving the requests. In 2012 Chief Williams recommended 11 people for fire fighting and EMT positions. The selectmen approved all 11 requests for additional personnel. Even if the fire wards are in pace, the selectmen will continue to be reasonable for the hiring of EMTS as this falls outside the purview of fire wards. This could create significant issues when reviewing applicants for employment.
Our current chain of command provides a check and balance system for the town. Adding the additional layer of management along with the cost of fire wards will not eliminate the apparent lack of communication within the department. The fire wards will not improve the efficiency of the day to day operation of the fire department. Therefore due to the reasons outline above we do not recommend Article #43.
Alton Board of Selectmen
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