Chester board backs grant application for wet suits; continues to mull fairgrounds proposal


By Shawn Cunningham

Answers were scarce as the Chester Select Board, during last Wednesday’s meeting, continued to discuss several topics including how to pay for water rescue gear, whether to move forward with a proposed festival venue and what to do about water and sewer rates. The last question was take off the agenda this time.

Chester Fire Chief Matt Wilson appeared to follow up on the department’s request to submit a grant for water rescue suits for training. According to Wilson, 13 of 16 department members are interested in the training. But that since the suits are cut to fit the user to keep water out, they are not interchangeable. At its last meeting, the board asked Wilson to return with more information, including the cost of liability insurance that would come with being trained in water rescue.

Wilson said the cost of such insurance would be about $600 per year. He added that following the last Select Board meeting, he and town manager David Pisha and his assistant Jule Hance discussed options, noting that a grant proposal to purchase suits, made to the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, would be stronger if it covered the “structure helmets” that firefighters wear but only have a limited shelf-life.

The grant could be written for the helmets and two water suits, freeing up money in the equipment budget to buy several more water suits while the engine company continues to raise funds.

Select Board member Tom Bock noted that a water rescue had been done in Springfield by the Hartford Fire Department over the weekend. Bock said that Hartford has been identified as the regional water rescue department, then questioned the need for training and equipment in Chester. “Tell me we need this,” said Bock.

Wilson said that the state’s initiative to get departments trained stems from the experience of Tropical Storm Irene when fire departments could not move from town to town on mutual aid calls. “The goal is to get trained so you can do it locally.” The Select Board then voted to approve the application for the grant.

But having approved the grant application for helmets and two suits, the board then seemed to want to walk back the idea of paying for more suits from the department’s equipment budget. Board member Derek Suursoo said that the town couldn’t go full bore with the suits and that if Wilson were to choose the best people to train, the town could buy six suits.

“We’ve been doing (water rescues) right along. But our guys have done it without being properly protected.”

Matt Wilson
Chester Fire chief

Wilson said that the engine company was finding ways to raise money, that the firefighters were eager to train and that it would be a blow to stop them. “You’re stabbing them in the heart,” said Wilson.

“We are a small town. It would be really sweet to have the best equipment,” said board member Arne Jonynas. “But this is a small town, I’m concerned about the money. If we’re the town that has the equipment and the know-how, we’re going to be going all over the place.” Pointing out that the helmets were budgeted, but the water gear was not, Jonynas said that moving the money is a way to spend more than the Select Board had wanted.

Board member Derek Suursoo, offering a “contrary viewpoint,” said it was the Select Board’s responsibility to set the budget, but the town manager and fire chief’s responsibilit for spending it. Finally, it was decided that the town would go ahead with the grant application and Pisha would see that the Fire Department “uses outside funding to the greatest extent possible.”

In an interview on Tuesday, April 22, Wilson said that water rescue is not new to the Chester Fire Department. “We’ve been doing this right along,” said Wilson. “But our guys have done it without being properly protected.”

Tax deductible donations to support the purchase of water rescue equipment can be sent to: Yosemite Engine Co., P.O. Box 631, Chester, VT 05143. Make a note in the memo line that the contribution is for “equipment.”

Fairgrounds discussion

Barre Pinske attended the meeting to update the board on the progress of his idea to create a festival ground on Route 103 south across from the Heritage Deli. Pinske noted that he had spoken with Bob Flint of the Springfield Regional Development Corp., Michael Normyle, who is Chester zoning administrator, town manager Pisha and the Chester Economic Development Corp. about the idea and asked each for input and help.  HAVEN’T VOTED in our Telegraph Poll? DO SO HERE.

At this point, according to Pinske the land owner will not plant corn. Suursoo suggested that the highly aerated land would take several passes of grass seed to put in hay and that the site would not be usable until it settled down and compacted. This, he estimated, would not be before September.

Pinske replied that this is not solely about his event (The Big Buzz Chainsaw Carving Festival) but about a wider vision that would give everyone time to plan.

“The problem I see is with who is actually going to deal with it,” said Suursoo noting that it takes a core of individuals to shepherd such a project and that “there aren’t the people with that energy anymore.”

“I like your proposal,” said Tom Bock, but he also said that five people had contacted him to say that the project in not in the interest of most people in Chester. Bock said that he’d need to see a full-fledged proposal for the project with all of the numbers calling it a “detailed plan.”

Board chair John DeBenedetti pointed to a list of questions that would clarify the project saying, “Here’s the homework.”

“It’s not up to Barre to do the homework,” said Pinske. “Get other people involved. I’m just a guy. … we have an opportunity to work together. I’m willing to be on a board to look into this.”

“I had hoped that others would show up with ideas,” said Suursoo noting that Bill Dakin of CEDC was attending the meeting.

Dakin said that “not CEDC, but interested people, including the town (government) need to be willing to sit down to make it work.” Dakin said there were not answers, but there is interest. He added that he was organizing a meeting to see what can be done and he would invite the Select Board, saying, “We are not going to plan in a setting like this.”

DeBenedetti said that the board would need to warn a meeting if they were to attend. “A bit of impulsiveness might yield results,” said Suursoo.

Other business

Peter Hudkins asked that the town conduct a survey of his property and properties of his neighbors to locate an ancient road that the town has laid claim to. Suursoo, who lives near Hudkins, agreed that this was the town’s responsibility: “We should have to answer this – we want to keep the road – we should be able to tell the landowner where it is.” The board asked Pisha to call the surveyor who does work for the town about doing a center line survey.

On the next agenda: The Select Board suggested addressing in its first meeting in May new water and sewer rates; asking Bob Flint of SRDC to appear to say what clients it has in Chester; and addressing the Pizza Stone outdoor dining permit and a liquor permit for Bill Austin’s seafood restaurant.

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