Cabot, News

Fire Station Discussion Heats Up Town Meeting

CABOT – Several months ago, in July 2023, dark muddy water filled the basement of Cabot’s historic Willey Building. Tuesday, the building hummed, not with rushing water, but with the activity of community members gathering for Town Meeting Day in the third-floor auditorium.

photo by Catherine Morrissey
The crowd gathered in the public library for Cabot’s Town Meeting on March 5.

Flooding was on residents’ minds, though, as the day’s discussion began. The most heated debate arose over a topic that wasn’t even up for a vote: construction of a new fire department building to replace a temporary structure.

Cabot’s previous fire station flooded in July and was condemned, forcing the town to build a new temporary building on the site of a former basketball court adjacent to the town recreation field. That interim site cost almost $1.3 million. Most of the cost for that will be covered by the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) and some state funds, with little burden on taxpayers, said Cabot Fire Chief Dean Deasy.

He said staff plans to move into the temporary station March 29. When the department moves to a permanent location, the temporary facility “will be offered back to the town for basically pennies on the dollar from FEMA,” Deasy said.

The permanent firehouse is slated to go up at 2466 Main St. in the residential Lower Cabot area, next to the organic produce grower, Nama Farm. FEMA money will likely cover the ultimate cost for that building, though the price tag is still to be determined.

Several residents argued that they have had little say in the town’s selection of the final fire station location and have no idea of the ultimate cost. Some are worried about the proximity of the fire station to Nama Farm and the possibility that toxins used in firefighting could wash off equipment and taint the farm’s produce.

“What are we doing here?” asked Larry Gochey, a former road commissioner and select board member, referring to the farm. “Are we just going to shove this down their throats?”

photo by Catherine Morrissey
Resident Ama Peyman speaks to Fire Chief Dean Deasy and the crowd on Town Meeting Day.

Ama Peyman, 56, who owns Nama Farm and moved to Cabot in 2019, had a more tempered response to the proposal. “I’m really interested in how we can be good neighbors to each other, with the safety building going on next door,” she said.

“The issue indicates that residents should pay more attention to officials’ decisions” said Connie Hourihan, 72, in an interview after the town meeting. Further, she offered that, “We, including myself, have been a little bit apathetic to the town government, and they have just been doing what they want.”

Nathan Smith, a 10-year Cabot Fire Department volunteer, said improvements planned for the proposed permanent fire station will improve both the morale and recruitment of fire department volunteers. One such improvement is a decontamination room where fire fighters can clean their equipment after being out on calls.

“It’s also about the safety of our volunteers,” said Kerri Moll, 39, a Cabot Fire Department volunteer, social worker and therapist. “Right now, we don’t have anywhere to decontaminate our equipment, so we go home, possibly with carcinogens.”

photo by Catherine Morrissey
Michael J. Hogan fields a question from a Cabot resident on Town Meeting Day.

Flood damage across Cabot has cost the town $3 million, most of which it has had to borrow, said Michael Hogan, chair of the select board. FEMA has pledged to reimburse the town 90% of the money, and the state will put up 5%,

The firehouse project is closely tied to one of the more contentious proposals on the Town Meeting ballot. It asked voters to decide in an advisory resolution whether to continue designating Cabot Emergency Ambulance Service as the primary provider of emergency transport in town.

Residents overwhelmingly favored the proposal, though some raised issues with problems that the town has had getting emergency transport from the local provider on a few occasions when no volunteers were available.

photo by Catherine Morrissey
Town Moderator Jeanne Johnson addresses the gathered Cabot residents.

Cabot resident Miranda Hunt, though, spoke during the meeting about a family member who had a medical emergency. Cabot’s four-wheel-drive ambulance managed to navigate the difficult terrain of her driveway to deliver help, she said.

“It’s in the best interest in this community to keep it local,” Hunt said.

Since the fire station flooded, the ambulance has lacked a permanent home, though officials say it’s in a safe location. Under FEMA regulations, the volunteer organization couldn’t be housed within the new fire station, because it’s not a public entity. It’s a private organization that operates independently of the town.

“The Cabot ambulance was asked if they would like to merge with the fire department,” said Ruth Goodrich, treasurer of the Cabot Emergency Ambulance Service. “That was a question that has come up in the past, that has been declined in the past.”

Goodrich has worked for 20 years as an emergency medical technician for the local service, as well as in other towns. Despite budget constraints, she said, “We’ve always given the best quality care that we absolutely possibly can to the citizens of the town of Cabot.”

Line-Marie Eichhorst and Lucia McCallum reported this story on assignment from The Hardwick Gazette. The Community News Service is a program in which University of Vermont students work with professional editors to provide content for local news outlets at no cost.

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