Village, town of Victor mull possible changes ahead for Victor Fire Department

VICTOR — On May 22, village and town boards will invite residents to weigh in on whether they want to see Victor Fire Department and Fishers Fire District join forces officially, taking their existing day-to-day collaboration to the next level.

Residents will also have to decide if they want to share some of the tax burden Fishers residents have shouldered thus far on their own.

Village trustees and Town Board members met Monday to set a May 22 joint public hearing to gain public input on the possible formation of a joint town-wide, village-wide fire district. If approved, the Victor Fire Department, Inc., would continue to be staffed by volunteers, and the 16 firefighters employed by Fishers Fire District would cover the entire town and village. A single commission would govern, levy taxes, and pay the bills for the three entities providing fire protection: Victor Fire, Fishers, and the Fishers career staff.

“This can be very confusing, easy prey for the rumor mills, and subject to a great deal of anxiety,” wrote Fire Chief Sean McAdoo in a recent email to all Fire Department members.

“The important part to realize is that either we utilize the current staffing levels from Fishers into Victor, or we hire our own,” he stated. “The Town Board, the Fishers Fire District, the Fishers volunteer association join us in believing this is the right step for the community and to help us continue to serve the public.”

Fishers Fire District Commissioner Chair Maureen Bills said Tuesday she couldn’t speak for her entire board, but is “in favor of consolidating services,” and believes other commissioners “are all in agreement on this issue.”

Since 2011, Victor and Fishers fire departments have collaborated on joint purchases, aligned training and response plans, and worked as a functionally combined organization, McAdoo said. Each relies on the other’s areas of strength.

A town-wide emergency services study conducted in 2016 recommended the most cost-effective solution would be to maintain two volunteer companies under a single joint fire district. Along with the career staff already on duty, this would mean 10 firefighters could arrive on the scene of an incident within 10 minutes — a level of service a residential and business community like Victor requires.

Village Mayor Gary Hadden voiced concerns at Monday’s joint meeting of town and village boards. Currently the Village Board acts as Victor Fire Department’s governing body.

“There’s a lot of moving parts to the topic,” said Hadden. “It’s very difficult for us who are more directly involved in it to comprehend it all. I feel the residents deserve a better chance at understanding it, hearing it and trying to absorb it.”

Among his questions: Is this moving too quickly? Will the fire department become fragmented? With volunteers be at odds with career firefighters? Will costs escalate? Will qualified candidates step forward to serve as commissioners? Will the board of commissioners be balanced and represent all of the stakeholders?  

“This situation has morphed,” added Hadden on Monday. “It started on March 20 as a proposal for a joint fire district between the Victor Fire Department and the Victor Fire Protection District (town area outside the village, but not including Fishers Fire District). In the meantime, it seems it has become a proposal to include the Fishers Fire District in an absolute town-wide district.”

This is a complicated issue — it’s not a simple fix, Hadden said.

“If we who are on the inner circle as far as information goes — if we’re struggling with it, what is the public doing?” he said. “I need to educate the voters out there, to give them a better understanding before a decision is made by this board.”

Karen Simonds is a member of the Victor Fire Department Ladies Auxiliary — she and her daughter, husband, father-in-law and grandfather-in-law have been or are currently volunteers.

She said she “was very unhappy to read the chief's email about combining with Fishers” and causing a tax increase.

“My purpose is to get the taxpayers to understand there are options and they need to take notice,” said Simonds. “We’ve divided the fire department into the people who are for it and the people who are not.”

McAdoo said with the date set for a joint public hearing, the conversation can now begin in earnest between residents, local officials and the fire departments.

What changes would a new joint fire protection district bring?

 

Fishers Fire District would dissolve, said McAdoo. The Victor Fire Protection District, a geographical area, would dissolve. And the town and village boards would form a joint fire protection district — a geographical area and governing board of commissioners with the ability to levy taxes, replace vehicles and manage equipment, he said.

Neither the Fishers Fire Volunteer Fire Association nor the Victor Fire Association would change — both are bodies of firefighters who serve within the proposed fire protection district.

Consolidation wouldn’t eliminate volunteers; rather, it would let the volunteers focus on the needed calls while the paid staff handle routine matters or respond when volunteers are not available, said McAdoo.

“We have 49 volunteers, 21 of which are interior firefighters,” he said. “Take out those who are over 45. Take out those who are enrolled in college or else living at home and are college-aged, which means they haven’t established a life yet here in Victor or outside. That leaves us with three.

“When I look at the future and scoping out two or three years, I can’t count on more three people who are going to carry the load that right now 21 of us are carrying,” said McAdoo. “Instead of creating a brand-new district with four of our own hirees, why can’t we simply take Fishers, spread them out over the whole town? We stay volunteer, and we get the help we need.”

The message shouldn’t be complicated, McAdoo said — he said it comes down to a matter of dollars and cents.

“We just want the taxes to be balanced,” said McAdoo. “We’re trying to do it ahead of where we need it, so we can ease into it so our volunteers don’t get discouraged and walk away. They can still ride that first truck out. They can still be out there being a valuable member doing activities that are important.”

Recruiting and scheduling will be more creative than ever, according to Victor volunteer firefighter Bob Green. He’s aiming to offer an assortment of opportunities for volunteers who may only be available during specific time slots on certain days — and not whenever the alarm sounds. With each volunteer pitching in at a time that fits their work and family schedules, the firehouse could be fully staffed.

“Victor is growing, and the fire department is going to have to grow with it,” said Green. “When the taxpayer calls 911, they’re looking for a service. That’s what we’re going to honor.”

“What we are looking at doing will promote the fire service and make it even better and more affordable for everyone,” said veteran firefighter Glenn Lockwood. “I’m hoping we become a single department with basically a combination between paid and volunteer. I really feel a strong volunteer base is best for any community, especially this one.”

To help inform residents, Victor Fire Department, Inc. will feature a page at http://victorfire.com called “Our Future” with information as it develops. McAdoo said several open houses will also be held at the fire station, along with door-to-door delivery of information cards to residents.

The location of the May 22 joint public hearing has not yet been determined.