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Krista Birch, center, moderates Tuesday's candidates forum for Prudential Committee.

Williamstown Prudential Committee Candidates Share Concerns at Forum

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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David Moresi, left, and Richard Reynolds are running for, respectively, an 18-month seat and a 30-month seat on the Prudential Committee.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The four candidates for two seats on the Fire District's Prudential Committee could not find one area of disagreement in an hour-long candidates forum on Tuesday evening.
 
All four agreed that the most pressing issues facing the district are the cramped, inadequate firehouse on Water Street and the need to attract more men and women to join the call-volunteer fire service.
 
On Tuesday, Nov. 19, district voters will go to the polls at Williamstown Elementary School to select two new members of the committee, which oversees the district as a separate taxing authority apart from town government.
 
District voters, at the request of the current Prudential Committee members, recently decided to expand the panel from three to five members. The two new seats, like the original three, eventually will have three-year terms, but in the initial expansion vote, they will be split to create a staggered cycle on the regular May election schedule.
 
Voters on Nov. 19 will select either David Moresi of Buxton Hill Road or Gerard Smith of White Oaks Road for an 18-month term. Richard Reynolds of Harwood Street and Bruce MacDonald of Hancock Road are running for a 30-month term to expire in May 2022.
 
On Tuesday, the four men attended a forum hosted by the Williamstown League of Women Voters and moderated by Krista Birch.
 
"I think we have four great candidates, so I think as a community we'll be well served," Reynolds said by way of a closing argument at the forum's conclusion.
 
Each candidate appeared open to the idea that the department needs to expand from a single full-time employee, the chief, to add a second position, and each candidate showed a willingness to defend the department against potential critics who will cite declining incidences of fire as a counter to initiatives like a new station.
 
Jeffrey Thomas brought the latter argument to the discussion, noting that, if true, a decline in the number of fires nationally is a positive but suggesting it also could be a challenge for a Prudential Committee asking taxpayers to make a greater investment in the service.
 
Thomas did not mention, but could have cited, statistics from the federal government's U.S. Fire Administration that show a downward trend over the last 10 years — from a peak of 1.45 million in 2008 to 1.32 million in 2017.
 
All four candidates were ready with a response to that argument.
 
"One of the things that gobsmacked me when I read it is we have trains that travel through Williamstown and they are loaded with stuff," Smith said. "All I see is stickers saying how hazardous they are. The first people who are going to respond to a situation with them are our firefighters. We have a fire department that does a lot more than just taking care of calls for fires."
 
Smith was referring to what he read in a study that the district, town and Williams College jointly commissioned to examine the fire district's needs in the coming decades. That study was ordered in part to assess the need for a new station on a Main Street parcel that district voters agreed to purchase for that purpose in 2017.
 
Candidates received an early copy of the consultant's report, which is being readied for a public release later in November.
 
MacDonald said he believed the commonwealth soon will require that all new construction have sprinkler systems, but even that will not reduce the need for adequate protection from the fire department.
 
"Everyone thinks of the fire department as the big ladder truck squirting down a five-story building," MacDonald said. "But the evolution of it will be foam trucks and hazardous waste and EMTs. All of that will need to be taken into account with the construction of a new building."
 
Moresi went further, questioning the premise that the number of fires is dropping.
 
"The idea of the incidence of fire trending downward, I'm not on board with that," Moresi said. "The incidence of fatalities trending downward, yes.
 
"There's always going to be a need for a fire department. No one appreciates them until they're needed, and when they're needed, boy are they appreciated. … Sprinklers do not put out fires. Sprinklers help you egress during a fire.
 
"I'd have no problem selling the community on why there's a need."
 
Reynolds emphasized the need for strong local response, especially in a rural environment.
 
"You can't outsource the fire service," he said. "If there's an accident, minutes are lives. If you look at fires that could take place in facilities for elderly residents, it's important we get there quickly. … While waiting for our partner departments to respond.
 
"Like Gerry mentioned, it could be something like a train, or at the science facility at Williams or at an elderly facility. We need to deliver those services quickly."
 
Current Deputy Chief Michael Noyes told the candidates and the audience that the district is lucky that several of the district's call-volunteer fighters — like himself — are employees of the college, which has no problem with the firefighters leaving on a moment's notice to respond to a fire or accident.
 
But Chief Craig Pedercini is overworked with the day-to-day operation of the department, which includes annual inspections of college and commercial properties.
 
"We need to have some full-time staff, Monday to Friday, that's when the core of firefighters are working during the day," Noyes said.
 
"Every fire we have now is more dangerous than it was 10 years ago. … We can decrease fires even more dramatically by having a better fire prevention program. One of the biggest ways we can do that is to expand the paid daytime staff."
 
The candidates were cautiously supportive of the idea of evaluating the district's overall staffing.
 
Reynolds said he was open to a hybrid model for staffing the department and mentioned that the construction of a new station opens the possibility of including an onsite apartment that could help attract young firefighters who then could be "active members of the community."
 

Gerard Smith, left, and Bruce MacDonald are running for, respectively, an 18-month seat and a 30-month seat on the Prudential Committee.
Moresi cited his own experience as a volunteer member of an ambulance service in New York; he has first-hand experience with the difficulty in attracting and retaining volunteers.
 
"It's a reality all over, you're seeing it in the media," he said. "There's a serious problem with volunteers. I want to be proactive and do community outreach.
 
"Daytime [coverage] is a true challenge. We'll find a way. It might be through various sources — looking at permitting fees, the rates charged for inspections. We may have to look at tax revenue. I do understand that during the day it's going to be a challenge."
 
MacDonald and Smith each said he would look at the issue if elected to the committee.
 
"It would be irresponsible of me to make a determination of how we should proceed with the problem you just mentioned," MacDonald told Noyes. "It is exactly the kind of thing that needs to be studied and addressed by the Prudential Committee. And it requires input from the population — as far as education of residents of the problems you listed."
 
"I don't have the answer, but I have an open mind," Smith said. "If hiring people is what we need to do, I think the committee will do what has to be done."

Tags: election 2019,   prudential committee,   


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Williams Women Advance on PKs in NCAA Tournament

Williams Sports Information
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Down a goal in the final minutes of regulation on Sunday, women’s soccer needed a big goal and got one from Alison Lu.
 
“Alison Lu is at her best when the stakes are the highest,” head coach Michelyne Pinard said of the senior forward, who previously scored the gamewinner against Amherst on Sept. 28. “So happy for her to have a moment like that after being injured for about a year and a half.”
 
Lu ran onto a pass from forward Rain Condie and beat the goalkeeper at the far post to tie the game 1-1 with just more than three minutes remaining in the second half. After two scoreless periods in extra time, substitute goalkeeper Leyla Kamshad made a save in the penalty shootout to take No. 24 Williams (10–5–3/6–3–1 in the NESCAC) past No. 5 MIT (20–1–3/10–0–0 in the NEWMAC) in the NCAA tournament.
 
“Overall just so pleased with the team’s grit,” Pinard said. “That is a very good MIT team and we hung with them until the end.”
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