The communities of Richmond and West Stockbridge have reached an agreement to share a fire chief — for at least the coming year.
The trial run for a shared-services agreement, approved unanimously Monday by the Richmond and West Stockbridge select boards, is designed to enhance cooperation between the two departments, emphasize team-building and combine several functions.
During the remote meeting, the boards authorized Richmond Town Administrator Danielle Fillio and her counterpart in West Stockbridge, Marie Ryan, to work out a memorandum of understanding to spell out the details and set an effective date for the joint agreement.
Richmond Fire Chief Steve Traver proposed the one-year shared-services trial, telling the members of both boards that no budget increase would result and that there would be no "burden" on him, or any change in his workload.
Under the arrangement, volunteers in both departments would train together and existing command structures would be maintained in case Traver was unavailable to respond to a call.
A dual agreement "has a lot more pluses than minuses," Traver said, and the towns could be eligible for state grants if the one-year trial results in a long-term deal.
He also stated that "a lot of Berkshire County towns should be doing it, but no one wants to pull the trigger on it."
The opportunity for West Stockbridge to explore a shared-chief agreement developed after the town's previous fire chief, Peter Skorput, was placed on administrative leave by the Select Board last March, amid concerns about his response to a house fire. He also had been fined $5,000 by the state Ethics Commission for violating conflict-of-interest laws that included securing pay for relatives and engaging in retaliation toward those who complained about his handling of the department.
Richmond Selectman Neal Pilson, noting his general support for shared services, voiced mild concern over the "responsibility level" facing Traver, because he would have to "make hard decisions on how many trucks you roll and how many people you have."
He pointed out that there were 322 fire and ambulance calls in Richmond last year, as reported in a fundraising letter from the Fire Department. West Stockbridge had about half the number of calls during the same period.
West Stockbridge Selectman Eric Shimelonis, who volunteers for the Richmond Ambulance, offered an enthusiastic endorsement.
He praised Richmond's Fire Department as "a very well-put-together organization because of Chief Traver's leadership. It functions well, has a great culture and the training system is fantastic. Everyone seems utterly competent."
"What this will allow is for our town to build up under the chief's leadership to be like Richmond," Shimelonis said. "We have each other's backs, together is stronger than apart, and we'll function well as a team.
"The opportunity to exercise the skills more often makes us all better," he said. "In small towns, skills wither because a lot of towns, there aren't enough calls to give you the skill set you need to respond effectively."
He also asserted that "we're going to build something really special," and that the one-year trial has "the potential for changing the face of Berkshire County over time, for other departments to come in and join, making our South County emergency services stronger."
Clarence Fanto can be reached at email@example.com, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.