MEXICO – Mexico’s structure-fire training session on Sunday at the old Waleik store on Route 17 went off without a hitch.
But, at Wednesday night’s selectmen’s meeting, some comments about the burn and a perceived hindrance from the Water District aggravated a few selectmen.
Fire Chief Gary Wentzell said about 60 firefighters from six towns participated in the training burn, which is normally done once a year.
Then, when Selectman George Byam said he was pleased with the results of “the well-needed exercise,” Wentzell said they used 20,000 gallons of water from a brook rather than a Water District hydrant.
Prior to the burn, Wentzell said he was told by a district official that had they used water from a hydrant, the department would have been billed.
That upset Byam and Selectman Reggie Arsenault.
“Fire protection is a very, very serious business,” Byam said, “and some people consider that Sunday as helping somebody get rid of their property.”
“Yes, maybe it did, but, the results of that training and the amount of it, and the people who trained at that session, that practice is invaluable,” he added.
He said a dollar value can’t be placed on it because it’s the only time firefighters actually get inside a building to learn how fire reacts, and what must be done to control it.
Byam continued uninterrupted, adding that training burns are part of firefighting, and “should be included in our amount we pay for fire protection from the water district.”
Wentzell said early Thursday evening that Byam’s stern words were aimed at Water District Trustee Byron Ouellette, who said the state Public Utility Commission doesn’t want public water used for fire training.
That’s “not entirely true,” Wentzell said, though he didn’t explain why.
At Wednesday night’s meeting, Ouellette said, “This whole fire here, they didn’t use any of the water district’s water because they pumped it out of a brook, and, that’s great, and, you didn’t go ahead and waste public water, which is ideal. Terrific!”
Wentzell responded, saying that his “problem” with the water district began last year when they did a training burn at the Welch lot near Wal-Mart.
He said they used “very minimal water” from a hydrant throughout the day, so, he was surprised when later told by a district official that they’d used between 150,000 gallons to 160,000 gallons.
Wentzell said a town official told him that amount costs $200, which, he added, was a pittance when compared to what the district bills the town for hydrant rental.
That rental, Wentzell said, is driving the cost of fire protection to more than $100,000 annually.
Arsenault said he thought it “totally ridiculous” that this “problem” is preventing firefighters from using hydrant water for training.
“In the past, it’s never been a problem,” he said.
Arsenault then motioned that selectmen conduct a joint meeting with Water District trustees, and include Wentzell, “to get this ironed out and settled, once and for all.” It was unanimously approved. By Thursday, no date had been set for the meeting.