The Bennington Rural Fire Department has fewer than 40 volunteers, but at a meeting Monday night, nearly half those firefighters were placed on administrative leave, all because of a mud-bogging event.
Mudder's Day is held on Mother's Day each year in Bennington and draws a massive crowd from around the region. Spectators say there's a grand finale, and this year's was the biggest yet. An old trailer was doused in gasoline, set ablaze and a Cadillac was then driven through the burning camper.
It rallied the crowd, but also got the attention of the Department of Environmental Conservation. The DEC has launched an investigation. Mudder's Day organizer Milo Campbell claims he had proper permits for the event, but the DEC says not for a fire that large.
However, it's the volunteer firefighters who are in hot water because they doused the trailer in gasoline and lit the fire. Each member of the Bennington Rural Fire Department is now looking at up to $100,000 in fines and up to five years in jail.
And with so many firefighters suspended from the department, local residents are concerned about safety.
"Somebody's in trouble-- it's not going to be good for anybody," said Shane Bishop of Bennington. "I mean no one is going to show up. Are people going to burn or what? We had that fatality a few weeks ago here in town, so without them we are really going to be in trouble."
I spoke with DEC officials and they say as they continue the investigation into the fire and lack of permits, they do not believe the firefighters would be looking at maximum penalties.
The property owner, Milo Campbell, will not face any penalties. He had proper permitting for the mud bog and didn't physically start the fire. Campbell told WCAX News that he feels bad this is all coming down on the firefighters. He said he has been doing the event for six years and has never had any issues before.
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