RICHMOND — A trial agreement between the Richmond and West Stockbridge select boards to share the services of Richmond Fire Chief Steven Traver will be extended for two years.
At a recent joint meeting, the board members of both towns offered high praise for Traver, based on the first year of a trial run that began last summer.
“Chief Traver has been transformative over the past year,” West Stockbridge Board Chairman Eric Shimelonis said during a discussion with the Richmond board July 14. “The changes have been manifold with amazing saves, and in the background, maintenance and training.”
“We’d wholeheartedly like to keep this arrangement going,” Shimelonis said. Roger Kavanagh, his colleague on the West Stockbridge board, agreed, stating that “the chief has made quite an impact on our Fire Department and has brought all our gear up to date. I’m very confident in the job he’s doing.”
Richmond Selectman Roger Manzolini expressed support for continuing the agreement.
“We’re pleased to hear you’re very satisfied, as we are,” Manzolini told the West Stockbridge board members.
“We have an agreement in principle,” Richmond Select Board Chairman Neal Pilson said. The final touches on the deal are expected to be completed Monday, at the next West Stockbridge board meeting.
Traver and the combined department of both towns have responded to a half-dozen emergencies this year, including two house fires, a brush fire that was extinguished quickly, a minor electrical fire at The Tap House at Shaker Mill restaurant in West Stockbridge and a blaze at a West Stockbridge mobile home.
No one was injured in any of the fires, although three dogs died in a Richmond house fire on Dublin Road in April.
Voters in both towns have approved extension of the mandatory retirement age of 65 for Traver, subject to the Legislature’s permission.
In September, 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 train together and existing command structures are maintained. Traver has called on mutual aid from as many as a dozen towns in the Berkshires and nearby Columbia County in New York for a coordinated response to emergencies.
The shared-services arrangement emerged last year, after West Stockbridge Fire Chief Peter Skorput was placed on leave amid concerns about response time to a house fire Feb. 2, 2020. He also was 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.
Shimelonis, who has volunteered for Richmond Ambulance, offered an enthusiastic endorsement for the trial arrangement last year, calling that town’s Fire Department "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. 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 noted that the one-year trial had "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."