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Coventry Debates Having a Fire Department

March 6, 2012

Ava George and Celcelia Marquis of Derby were all smiles as they sold Girl Scout cookies at Coventry Town Meeting. Girl Scouts were selling cookies in other towns as well. Photo by Christopher Roy

COVENTRY–Yesterday, voters directed the select board to investigate getting its own fire department.
The Newport City Fire Department handles most of the calls. In general, Newport City Fire responds to 22 calls a year in Coventry. However, not all of those are fire calls. The Orleans Fire Department or the Newport Center Fire Department also handles some calls if those firehouses are closer to the emergency location than Newport City.
Newport City Fire Chief Jamie LeClair likes to bring as much equipment and firefighters as possible, because firefighters usually don’t know what they’re going up against, Select Board Chair Mike Marcotte said.
“When that happens, we get billed,” said Marcotte. “We’ve seen the cost of fire protection go up in Coventry.”
The City of Newport has suggested that Coventry pay 10 percent of the department’s tactical calls because 10 percent of the calls are in Coventry. That amounts to $10,000 appropriation a year.
It’s not really up to the Town of Coventry, Marcotte said. “If they feel they have to have that, they would bill us,” he said. “I guess we’d have to pay it.”
Several years ago, Coventry resident Perdo Grondin, an officer with the Newport City Fire Department, suggested Coventry get its own department. At the time, the town didn’t feel it was prudent to think about because fire calls were fairly low.
Firefighters are rolling trucks on accident calls only to get to the scene and find a fender-bender or broken glass, said Moe Jacobs, who said that cost money, but it’s nothing the firefighters want to do. “They’re there to fight fires and protect property,” said Jacobs. He said the state is mandating firefighters respond to accident calls. “They’re not happy about that.”
That’s okay for the city but it’s different for the more rural areas, said Jacobs. He said a Coventry fire department would cost more than $40,000 a year.
“Understand my position,” said Grondin, who’s assistant chief for the Newport City Fire Department as well as a Coventry taxpayer. “My thoughts are split on this; if I could speak off the record I’d be more comfortable to speak my honest opinion.”
A few residents looked at a reporter from the Newport Daily Express, who pointed out that it was an open meeting.
“I think you would save money if you went with your own fire department,” said Grondin.
The town doesn’t know what type of equipment it would need. A panel would help determine that, Marcotte said.
Earlier in the meeting, voters passed each appropriation with ease. This includes $4,095 for IROC, $7,288 for the Newport Ambulance Service and $1,408,399 for road maintenance.
Voters also elected a number of individuals as town and school directors. The first contest of the morning came when it was time to elect a three-year term for school director. Incumbent Frank Carbonneau faced off against Town Clerk and Treasurer Cindy Diaz.
Carbonneau told voters, before they cast paper ballots, that he had been a board member for 11 years. He said being a school director is important and he does his best at it.
Diaz said she has been town clerk, treasurer and school bookkeeper for several years. She said it’s a critical time as the school starts its search for new principal.
“I’d like to see new blood on the school board,” said Diaz. “I think the board might have been complacent in a few issues.”
Carbonneau won 53 vote to Diaz’s 35.
Voters also chose incumbent Viola Poirier for a two-year term on the school board. Diaz declined the nomination.
Diaz also lost her position as trustee of the cemetery fund to Deb Tanguay. Diaz retained her position as collector of delinquent taxes.

 

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