NORTH ORWELL - The question of whether or not the Windham Fire Department will resume service to the community was left unresolved at a public meeting on Thursday.
References to impropriety by at least two current Windham Township Supervisors were made at the meeting; along with a desire to resolve the feud between the fire company and the supervisors; the possibility of future lawsuits that could bankrupt the township; and the signing of a petition by many, were some of the items discussed. The meeting was attended by approximately 150 people.
There was no decision made on how on to end the feud, nor for the township to provide a new fire department as suggested by supervisor Chairman Charles Davis earlier in the week.
The meeting, held at the North Orwell Community Hall, was called by the township's fire company, which is currently out of service after the department vacated the community hall on Feb. 3.
As it stands now, the residents of Windham Township are without a fire department. Township supervisors this week agreed to pay three neighboring fire departments a total of $3,400 - split among the three departments - to provide fire protection for the township for a period of 30 days, according to fire company officials.
Supervisors Charles Davis and Larry Brown did not attend the meeting Thursday, and their side of where the issue stands could only be relayed through conversations that supervisor Ed Kaminsky and fire company members said they had had with the pair.
Kaminsky said at the meeting that the other two supervisors were both were invited.
According to Kaminsky, Davis informed him earlier Thursday that he did not intend to attend the public meeting. Kaminsky said Brown did not attend the meeting because he only recently had heart surgery and is recovering.
Fire company president Doug Soden said Thursday that vacating the hall, removing tables and chairs and all fire equipment, was a hard decision to make, but that fire company members felt it was a move that was necessary to "wake up" the supervisors and the residents to the situation currently facing both sides.
Many of the township residents in attendance said they are now definitely awake to the situation and definitely prepared to fight to have the township fire department reinstated so that fire protection in Windham Township will come from a fire company located in the township and not outside - up to 15 minutes away.
Some residents called for a petition to be signed, others wanted to know if a referendum could be placed on a ballot so that the residents of Windham Township could speak their mind on the situation, which has left the township without their own fire protection.
According to Soden, Brown and Davis have already had a meeting between each other and Soden during which they said they do not intend to welcome the fire department back into to community hall and for that matter into the community.
Soden said at this point Brown and Davis told him that they have washed their hands of the fire department and intend to form their own fire department and abandon the current fire company members.
It is now up to the residents of the township to inform the supervisors if they desire to have the fire company back or not.
Several residents spoke out at the meeting and said it is their desire to have the fire company back to cover the township and many said they could not understand why the supervisors would agree to pay other townships the same fee for 30 days of coverage that they could have paid the township fire company for a years' worth of coverage.
The supervisors have been paying the fire department approximately $8,500 for the last several years, up until June of this year, according to Soden. Soden and fire company member Scott Nichols said that the fire company had been operating without a contract since June and that a remaining $3,400 was to be paid to the fire company. When it became apparent the supervisors would not be paying the money fire company members say was promised to them, they said they realized that they had to do something to bring the situation to a "head."
The fire company can not return to the township to provide service without a contract with the municipality, according to the company's legal advisor Attorney Jim Carroll, of the Carroll and Carroll Law Firm in Sayre.
The contract can not be renewed unless the township supervisors agree to renew it, something the supervisors - at least Davis and Brown - have not indicated they will do.
Residents attending Thursday's meeting said without Brown and Davis in attendance they had a hard time judging where the township supervisors really stand on the issue and also felt that they were the individuals in the situation holding up the process of reinstating homebound fire protection in Windham Township.
Several residents said not only did they want the fire department to lay aside any personal issues that might be holding back negotiations, but they also wanted the supervisors to do the same. One reason residents are now more aware of the situation than ever is the possibility of future lawsuits against the township, either by a resident who loses a house or a loved one as a result of a fire that a neighboring fire company can not respond to quickly enough, or maybe even by the fire company as it works through its issues with the supervisors.
More lawsuits mean more taxpayer money being spent by township officials to cover legal fees. Fire company officials said they are trying to avoid full out litigation regarding the situation in order to save township residents money.
As it stands now the township has bills between $10,000 and $12,000 in legal fees from this situation alone, Kaminsky said. Soden said the fire company has approximately $8,000 in legal fees now that still need to be paid.