BURRILLVILLE – Pointing to what they say are opportunities for cost savings, a group in Burrillville is calling for consolidation of the town’s longstanding village fire districts.
A organization identifying itself as “Citizens for a Consolidated Burrillville Fire District,” has created a website, and began posting on social media this month, also paying for an advertisement in a local publication.
Those behind the movement call the current system – with separate departments in Pascoag, Harrisville, Oakland/Mapleville and Nasonville – inefficient, due to redundancies in equipment and paid positions.
But attempts to contact organizers for additional information have been unsuccessful. And one resident who tried to find out who paid for an advertisement says it may have been submitted under a fake name.
Data on the group’s website makes the case for one unified district, noting that fire taxes continue to rise and vary between districts.
“This town now has four sets of Jaws of Life tools, one for each current district… which are more sets than many bigger city and town fire departments in our state,” the website notes.
“The combined budgets of the town’s four fire districts in the current fiscal year totals $4,663,179,” it states. “This service, a combined career/volunteer service, costs taxpayers 60 percent more than the town’s police department, a full time service whose current year budget totals $2,910,526.”
The concept of a unified Burrillville Fire Department is not new. When state Rep. David Place was serving on the Town Council in 2018, he attempted to get the issue on a ballot in a non-binding referendum before Burrillville voters. But the idea was tabled after several of the districts submitted letters of opposition.
Some movement towards consolidation has taken place on its own since the districts’ formation decades ago, when the small village departments were comprised mostly of volunteers. The Glendale Fire District split in 2002, merging with Oakland Mapleville and Harrisville. Wallum Lake remains an independent fire department, but operates under the Pascoag Fire District.
Consolidation of Nasonville with Oakland/Mapleville, meanwhile, is pending state approval, following a vote in 2018 in which residents voted to dissolve the Nasonville District following disputes with union firefighters.
The Citizens group states that, “Rarely are practices that were commonplace over 100 years ago not evolving over time as society evolves. This century old system of having multiple small village fire districts administering emergency services to the town no longer provides an efficient service to Burrillville.”
The districts, which operate with no funds from the town or the state, raise money primarily through fire taxes, as well as third party rescue billing and various grants and donations. The district approach is still utilized in around ten communities across Rhode Island, but leadership at the statewide level has pushed for consolidation with similar calls for efficiency and savings, calling the concept antiquated.
Burrillville’s latest consolidation proponents note that the town currently has 14 front line pumper/tanker trucks, exceeding the number found in much larger cities and towns across the state. According to the group, Providence currently has 12, Warwick, 9; and Cranston, 6.
But opponents of consolidation state that the equipment is needed due to the lack of hydrants in many areas of Burrillville. Just this week, multiple area fire departments were called to Knibb Road in Pascoag, where there was no water source to help extinguish a blaze beside one single family home. Those opposed to dissolving Nasonville’s village district cited response times as another major issue.
And residents who do support the current call for consolidation have remained anonymous, and have been unresponsive to requests for information.
Residents interested in consolidation are instructed to email firstname.lastname@example.org on the Citizens for a Consolidated Burrillville Fire District website, http://burrillvillefireconsolidation.com/, but NRI NOW received no response to an inquiry sent to the address. A private Facebook page created 23 weeks ago under the name has 11 members, and a request to join also ellicited no reply.
Resident Julia O’Rourke says she tried to find out who placed a recent advertisement on the issue in the Bargain Buyer, and was provided the name, “David Yasczcack.” No records seem to exist under the name.
Still, the website remains active, calling on residents to get involved and contact their district to let fire officials know they support consolidation.
“If the average Burrillville citizen or taxpayer were aware of the high cost of fire and EMS services in our town they also would be pushing for consolidation,” it states. “Saving money and being more fiscally responsible is an important focus of government entities. Efficient use of tax resources is a part of the social contract between a government and its residents.”
NRI NOW will update this story if more information becomes available.