On Sunday, Oct. 7 several individuals contacted me regarding calls for service from Burrillville’s fire districts. The recent termination of paid staff in Nasonville had created a heightened sense of concern, and talks with both volunteers and former employees focused on response times, and whether or not the district had made a hasty decision in eliminating both the staff and the chief in the village.
I didn’t know it at the time, but reports from the incidents would be heavily disputed.
First, on Sunday morning, I was told that the Millville Fire Department called for mutual aid from Nasonville, asking the department for a tanker to boost their water system and fight a small dryer fire on Dominic Street. With the Nasonville station empty, and volunteers unable to respond without leadership, I was told, Burrillville was lacking in its normally rapid response to the nearby town. Eventually, the Harrisville Fire District was contacted but the call was cancelled, with another town providing mutual aid before Harrisville firefighters could even leave the station.
I was contacted by several firefighters Sunday night.
Millville requested an engine, not a tanker, I was told, and never requested help from Nasonville.
The same day, a call came in from Victory Diner, which was said to be an electrical fire.
The diner is just .3 miles away from Nasonville fire headquarters, and response times from the Oakland Mapleville district were noted via information coming over the emergency radio system. It was noted that there were no emergency vehicles on site until some 9 minutes after the incident was called in, and a medic did not arrive until even more time had passed. According to national firefighting standards, two fire engines, one ladder truck, two tankers and a medic rescue with a total of 21 trained firefighters are required to respond to such a call within 6-8 minutes.
Wrong again, wrote several firefighters, who contacted me stating someone was on the scene in “well under eight minutes.” Further, there was never an actual fire, just some smoke and sparks caused by faulty wiring, called in out of abundance of caution.
I wondered how reports of the two incidents could be so contradictory. Was someone not telling the truth?
This week, I visited the Burrillville Police Department to view logs and hear audio from that day’s calls, and determine why the information I received varied. The answer, in short, is that everyone was honest, but they all had different perspectives on the well-orchestrated routine of emergency services.
And while issues in Nasonville may take time to resolve, with legal questions surrounding the department’s abrupt dismissal, residents can rest assured that their emergency calls will still be answered.
The following is a log of Sunday’s events, as taken from the audio.
At 10:29 Sunday morning, dispatcher Glen Biddiscombe answers a call from Millville requesting “an engine” from Nasonville fire to go to Mansfield Pond. Biddiscombe tells the caller that it won’t be Nasonville, but he will send help. Several unrelated calls come in immediately after. At 10:35, Biddiscombe sends out a tone notifying Harrisville, with directions to follow at 10:36.
The call is acknowledged almost immediately, but as firefighters begin reporting to the station, Millville cancels at 10:40 a.m.
So while it is true that Harrisville didn’t make it to Millville, it had nothing to do with a slow response by the district.
Later in the day, at 4:06 p.m. a woman calls from Victory Diner, but her connection to 911 is very poor. In audio almost impossible to understand, Biddiscombe gathers as much information as he can over the next minute, discerning that the call may be for an electrical fire, before dispatching an “All Station” tone at 4:08, with the address transmitted at 4:09.
Various trucks report that they are in route, and it is not an emergency vehicle, but Deputy Chief Joe Marcello from Oakland Mapleville who first arrives on the scene at 4:14 in the middle of a trip elsewhere in his car. Marcello sees that there is no actual fire in the building (the caller was not clearly heard) and issues a “Code Yellow,” a sign for others to slow down since there is no emergency.
So while it is true that a fire truck didn’t arrive at the diner until nine minutes after the call, and a medic took about 15 minutes to arrive, the emergency staff from Oakland Mapleville and other districts knew that there was no fire or injuries at the scene, and therefore, no need to rush.
Pascoag Deputy Chief Richard Peck made some additional points on the issue.
“If Millville had not recently laid off one of only two full time firefighters. they may not have needed mutual aid,” Peck said in a note.
“As for the 21 firefighters on scene, while that is the NFPA standard, nobody outside the major cities can put (that many) on scene on the initial response,” Peck added.
Peck said that he does believe the Nasonville crew is still needed.
“The only ones getting hurt in this is the other three districts, as this will be left to our people and taxpayers pick up the slack, and pay for those who do not want to pay for services,” Peck wrote.
I clarified the tanker versus engine question with Nasonville’s former Chief Joseph Bourquin, who said that it is Millville’s policy to call Nasonville first, and that his station trains to always send the tanker as backup.
It is a service that will surely be missed while the station sits unoccupied. All 27 Nasonville volunteers resigned last week.
But response times in Burrillville, even without Nasonville, have been reliably fast on the part of firefighters.
The Nasonville Operating Committee began a process of reorganizing last week, with hopes to recruit a new volunteer staff.
There are still many questions surrounding the dismissal of staff in Nasonville. Should the decision have been subject to a vote by the entire town? Why weren’t volunteers provided a chain of command or plan of operation immediately following the chief’s dismissal? How can Burrillville provide the same emergency service with less resources? What are the financial implications of Oakland Mapleville taking Nasonville’s call for services? Does the presence of paid Oakland Mapleville staff on the Nasonville Fire Committee constitute a conflict of interest?
The legal ramifications will play out over the next several months, or possibly even years.
But in the meantime, residents should know that their calls will always be answered.