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Why a Vermont town fired its entire fire department

Published: Jul. 23, 2020 at 8:12 AM EDT|Updated: Jul. 23, 2020 at 7:16 PM EDT
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ALBANY, Vt. (WCAX) - An entire Vermont fire department has been fired. Town leaders in Albany say the department has been mismanaged for years and they want to start from scratch. Our Ike Bendavid has more on the shakeup.

"I feel very blindsided," said Jeanne Peters, the former chief of the Albany Fire Department.

Peters says she was not expecting to get hosed at a recent select board meeting. She and a dozen volunteers were let go after the select board approved a motion to temporarily disband the entire fire department in this town of just 800 people.

"I feel left in the dark on that," Peters said.

She says the volunteer department mostly responds to accidents or helps neighboring towns with mutual aid.

Peters acknowledges issues in the past with former chiefs, including her father and brother, but when she took the reins there was to be a fresh start.

"When I took over from being chief that the select board and the fire department agreed that we kind of drew a line in the sand and everything that was in the past was in the past," Peters said.

The town says the expectations of Peters and the department were clear.

Peters says she never received a full list of what the town wanted done.

"I know they wanted us to have more regular trainings, which we did," she said.

"As far as firefighting, they were doing OK. Administratively, it was a disaster," said Phillip Beaudry of the Albany Select Board. "I'm not going to get in to the whole tit for tat on who said what."

But Beaudry points to issues that were never resolved.

"We have been trying to solve a lot of the problems. The divide kept getting wider and wider and we felt it was time to shut them down and restaff it," he said.

Beaudry says because of mutual aid, the town is covered during the temporary closure.

He says there are former firefighters who quit in the past because of mismanagement who want to join the department when it reopens.

"We are going to restructure and some people in there that want to do some training and want to keep stuff up and running well and serve the community," Beaudry said.

Firefighters let go last week are able to reapply for their jobs.

We heard mixed reactions from people in town.

"There are other fire departments covering it," said Paul Loura of Albany.

"Kind of nervous," said Jeremy Leather of Albany. "They have been great, We have been here for a year and they are always quick to respond."

The select board says they should have the fire station fully staffed and running by next week.

It’s not the first time the department has faced adversity. In 2013, volunteer firefighter Elmer James Joerg torched the town’s firehouse, destroying most of its equipment, including four fire trucks. He was later convicted of arson and reckless endangerment, admitting to authorities that he got urges to set fires.

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