A proposed consolidation of Victor and Fishers fire districts brings a crowd to Monday's public hearing

VICTOR — More than 130 residents lined up Monday to hear details and sound off on a proposal that would formally consolidate Victor Fire Department and Fishers Fire District into one joint district.

Village and town board members hosted the public hearing at Victor Town Hall, and firefighters turned out in full force to voice their support.

Residents were more divided, voicing such concerns as higher taxes, duplication of resources, and further decline in volunteerism that could result from hiring career firefighters.

Paul Bishop of the Rochester-based Center for Governmental Research was project manager for the town of Victor’s Public Safety Services Evaluation, conducted in 2016.   

“The time to figure out how to get out of a burning building is not after the fire has started,” Bishop told board members and residents Monday, detailing reasons why a joint fire district would improve service and preparedness for the future.

The study 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.

Victor Fire Chief Sean McAdoo said a collaboration between departments has been ongoing since 2012. Victor and Fishers fire departments have teamed up to make joint purchases, align training and response plans, and work as a functionally combined organization. Each relies on the other’s areas of strength. McAdoo said.

“Fishers doesn’t go away, Victor doesn’t go away,” said McAdoo of the proposed joint fire district. “You don’t throw that away. We can capitalize on our strengths.”

Gerald Barry, president of the 113-year-old Victor Fire Department Inc., said he sent a survey last week to all of Victor’s volunteer firefighters. Responding anonymously, 86 percent indicated they were in favor of a joint fire district, he said.

“The consolidation will help us tremendously to keep this going for another 113 years,” said Barry. “It’s the right thing to do, to consolidate and keep things moving in the right direction.”

Former Fishers Fire District Chief Joel Richter said in a time of crisis, only one thing matters.

“I don’t care how much it costs you to put out my house fire or rescue my wife, my concern is for safety,” he said.

Village resident Jeff Swan was one of several who is concerned that if Victor starts hiring firefighters, no one will want to volunteer.

“If I start paying someone to do something, they’re not going to come out and do it for free,” he said.

Both Victor Fire Department First Assistant Chief Mark Eifert and Fishers Board of Fire Commissioners Chair Maureen Bills said the decline of volunteerism is not just a Fishers Fire Department problem, and not a Victor Fire Department — it’s a nationwide problem.

The time investment and training requirements are prohibitive, and young, physically capable volunteers are not just “coming out of the woodwork,” Eifert said.

Jonathan Rowland has been a volunteer with Fishers Fire Department for exactly seven days. Before that he served as a Bushnell’s Basin firefighter.

“The main reason I moved to Fishers is because Fishers has a paid fire department,” said Rowland. “And when I have to go to work, I want to make sure somebody is there. Fishers has my kids’ back.”

Victor resident Dave Condon said he doesn’t think “it’s fair that Victor residents pay less for fire service than Fishers residents.”

“When the whistle blows, I want to know they’re going to be there,” Condon said.

Monday’s public hearing will remain open through June 12, with more opportunity for public comment at that time. Any written remarks must be submitted to Victor Town Hall by June 7.  

“I thought there was some good feedback from residents,” said Supervisor Jack Marren after Monday’s meeting. “There was some good support of this. Myself and the board, we kind of know that there’s one county tax, town tax, school tax — there should be one fire tax.”

Mayor Gary Hadden said he’s pleased with the turnout, and that residents got up and spoke.

“It’s the beginning of the public process, and we need to have it and take our time with it,” he said. “I just know instinctively that not enough people know about these issues. We’ve got to face them, we’ve got to talk about them, and then take time to think about them before we make a decision.”

“I don’t know which way this is going to go, but let’s hope we’ve done our homework and we make the right decision,” said Hadden.