EAST GREENWICH — The real sun was hiding behind the overcast skies within the town last Thursday evening.
But for the East Greenwich Fire District, the proverbial sun had officially set for good a little after 8 p.m.
After serving as its own government within East Greenwich since the days where John Adams was elected president, the Fire District’s time in the town officially drew to a close following the Board of Fire Commissioners meeting inside the conference room at Town Hall last Thursday evening.
With the passage of the referendum during the November election, asking residents if they prefer a merger of the EGFD into the Town of East Greenwich, and then the ensuing unanimous approvals of the merger legislation in both the State House of Representatives and State Senate within recent weeks, the curtain was lowered on the Fire District after 216 years of service to East Greenwich.
In stating that there might not be another meeting with the Fire Commissioners, Chairman Bill Daly formally thanked his fellow Commissioners in attendance – Mark Gee, Stephen Bartlett and Mark Schwager – Fire Chief Peter Henrikson, Treasurer Kevin Hundley and Tax Assessor Janice Peixinho, stating it has been a pleasure working with them.
“I didn’t anticipate that we would be the last serving Commissioners for the Fire District, but I guess that’s the way it works,” Daly said. “But it has been a pleasure working with everyone. I certainly wish the Town well and I’m sure they will do an excellent job in continuing to monitor and oversee the East Greenwich Fire Department.”
Bartlett, in his final comments as Commissioner, shared some instances when he’s been around town and had people come up to him, stating how well the Fire District has treated them in times of need, such as when EMTs show up and how much respect and professionalism they’ve shown on duty.
“It’s a credit to the leadership they have,” Bartlett said, “and it gives me a little pride being associated with that organization.”
Schwager, who expressed his gratitude in participating with the Fire District, also admitted that the last few months have been very stressful for both him and his fellow Commissioners. He stated that a Fire Commissioner is primarily a “low-profile” position – speaking from experience considering he served on the East Greenwich Town Council a few years ago – but the Fire Commissioners became “front-page news” for a number of weeks and months during all of the merger debates, discussions and testimonials at the State House between Commissioners and Town officials.
Schwager then said he was a little bit disappointed in some of the “personal tones” that were occurring during the transition.
“I have no problem with policy debate,” he said. “But there were some personal attacks and personal statements that were just really unwarranted that undermined the public’s confidence in government.”
Schwager added that, in is observation of the Commissioners is that their motivation is really public service.
“I’ve been very pleased to work with the group and there is no private benefit to serve on the Fire Commission,” he said. “It’s really public service as it’s best and our chair, Commissioner Daly, has set the tone that I think is something that some should aspire to be in the community and to give back to the community. It’s been a pleasure to work with everyone and the staff and the firefighters.”
Schwager also stated he has confidence that the transition will go well and that he has confidence in the Town officials to properly handle the now East Greenwich Fire Department in pristine fashion.
Gee concluded the brief farewell, of sorts, by saying the merger will be a “transparent move.”
Daly stated Gov. Lincoln Chafee hasn’t yet formally signed the two bills that were passed in the House and Senate, respectively, but rather it’s only a matter of days before it is to occur. With that said, Daly made the final motion to adjourn the East Greenwich Fire District, with unanimous approval from the Commissioners, and a loud applause from the public in attendance inside the tight quarters of the conference room at Town Hall.
During the public comment portion at the end of Thursday’s meeting, Town Manager William Sequino stated he got to see the firefighters in action for the first time taking care of putting out a fire that occurred on Hemlock Drive a couple of weeks ago, marking the unofficial beginning of the East Greenwich Fire Department.
In what is most likely the last vote ever taken by the East Greenwich Fire District, the Board of Fire Commissioners unanimously approved the EGFD’s 2014 fiscal budget, totaling $5,711,354, which will be transferred over to the Town of East Greenwich as part of its acquisition of all assets from the EGFD with the merger. The proposed tax rate will also be $2.17 for the upcoming year.
The biggest addition to this year’s budget is $100,000 being allocated to the other post-employee benefits (OPEB).
The Fire Commissioners also approved a number of requests from Henrikson from the Fire District’s capital improvement and impact fee accounts. There will be $105,000 for the second payment for the new rescue that was ordered last year, $45,000 to refurbish reserve Engine No. 3, which is a 1998 HME engine, $100,000 to repair the apparatus bay floor at Station 1, $12,000 to refurbish the main bathroom at Station 1, $50,000 to conduct a full energy audit of both facilities – Station 1 and Frenchtown Station 2 – as well as enact recommendations and $18,000 for engineering services to look into making possible additions to Station 2 out of capital.
From the impact fee account, the Commissioners approved $48,000to pave the east driveway at Station 2 and the driveway into the training area.