"We kept our fire trucks in what used to be the town barn," George Dickie said.
Dickie says he only has fond memories of serving as a volunteer firefighter in Bennington 70 years ago. But recent incidents at the Bennington Rural Fire Department have him saying those good memories are slipping away.
"It was good, I enjoyed it. But now, I don't think I would enjoy it. Now it would be against my feelings, I mean," Dickie said.
The most recent incident has landed Joseph Hayes, a former Bennington rural fire chief, in court for embezzlement charges. He pleaded innocent Monday.
"For allegedly keeping a little over $600 from people that had won money in a raffle and had allegedly not been paid," Bennington Police Lt. Lloyd Dean said.
But that charge only adds to a long track record the volunteer department has racked up over the years. Since 2007, members of the station have been charged with three separate counts on embezzlement, three sexual assault charges, one disorderly conduct and one stalking charge. And currently 16 members of the station are on suspension after a mud bogging incident in May.
Bennington Town Manager Stuart Hurd says the rural fire department is run completely separate from the town and is managed by a prudential committee that is made up of five members. Although he is on administrative leave, former Chief Joseph Hayes is on the governing board. Hurd says even if the town wanted to discuss or help the fire department with the recent misconduct, he says they can't.
"The town has reached out to the fire district in the past and at least have discussions about that without success. They have not been interested in consolidating with us," Hurd said.
A public hearing is scheduled at 6:30 p.m. at the Bennington Rural Fire Department to discuss the recent suspensions. Police are on site and say they want to make sure there are no threats or even physical violence.
The fire chief says the meeting will be focused on the current suspension, but it is open to the public, and some locals told WCAX News they want questions answered about the recent embezzlement and various misconduct charges.
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