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West Fairlee Fire Department Gets Boost

West Fairlee — In the end, the only real debate at Town Meeting on Saturday was not whether to give the town’s volunteer fire department more money, but how much more.

Twenty-six of the town’s 464 registered voters attended the meeting at the Community Building. They started at 10 a.m. and, by 10:15, had made quick work of more than half of the 21 articles on the warning.

And that’s no great surprise, given that the proposed $474,318 budget is about $700 less than the one approved last year, and the $60,000 in appropriations are similar to those approved in years past.

Attendees did take time to discuss the proposed $30,000 appropriation for the West Fairlee Volunteer Fire Department and an amendment that would increase that appropriation by $13,000.

Assistant Fire Chief Corey Austin said the number of medical calls is up already this year. If the trend continues, the department will have 40 or 50 more calls at the end of this year than it had last year, when members responded to 100.

Volunteer firefighter Scott Graham said the department often limps along with secondhand equipment and makes do with what it has. But the increase in medical calls highlighted the need for a four-wheel drive truck and a new bay in which to park it.

Graham said the department must use its large fire truck to respond to calls — even medical calls — which is a problem because it is a gas guzzler and it takes a beating on the town’s unpaved roads. Further, in order to drive the truck, department members must be certified.

The four-wheel drive vehicle would be more practical and would save money, Graham said. It would have to be equipped to transport medicine and medical equipment, which would require some measure of temperature control. This is why the new bay is needed.

Voters in attendance generally spoke in favor of the department, although some wondered if the department could do more fundraising to get what it needed.

Brian Stephens and others said that, for a volunteer department, its members are already being asked to do a lot.

“As a community what we are asking them to volunteer to do all the fire calls, do all the EMS calls, do all the fundraising, and why don’t you come and rake my lawn for free while you’re at it,” Stephens quipped.

Ultimately, voters passed the amendment and added $13,000, bringing the total appropriation for the department to $43,000. Voters also approved a variety of appropriations for social service agencies, including $20,212 for the Upper Valley Ambulance, $2,600 for the Visiting Nurse Alliance/Hospice, $2,000 for the Lake Fairlee Association, and $1,107 for the Clara Martin Center.

Voters will choose town officers and vote on the budget by Australian ballot on Tuesday, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., in the Community Building. There are no contested races. Selectwoman Beverly Jo Ash did not submit her paperwork on time, so her name is not on the ballot. She is running as a write-in candidate.

West Fairlee is part of the Rivendell Interstate School District, which will hold school elections and determine its tax rate at its annual meeting beginning at 6 p.m. on March 18, at the Rivendell Academy gym.