Bronson still wary over fire merger

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By Claude Lewis

It appears Bronson Fire Chief Rick Lombardo is slowly inching closer toward his goal of making Otter Creek part of the town's fire district, but there are still many unanswered questions standing in the way of making the deal stick.

Lombardo looked to Bronson Town Council for final approval of the merger between the two volunteer departments at Monday night's meeting.

Instead, he faced a number of questions from Vice Mayor Beatrice Mongo - ones he had no concrete answers for.

While Lombardo received permission to give the county attorney the OK to begin drawing up the official contract, he was also ordered to come up with more facts and figures before Bronson can approve it.

"I just want to make sure we have all of our ducks in a row before we approve this," said Mongo, the former mayor who has been on Town Council for seven years now. "The Town has been caught in things before."

One of the main log jams was getting exact numbers on paying for two part-timers to cover during daytime, when most of the firefighters are at their 9-5 jobs.

Mongo wanted to know how many hours a week were needed and how much they would be paid.

"He didn't have those answers tonight," Mongo said.

Lombardo said he would get those figures to Council in a matter of days.

Mongo said knowing exact hours is vital so that Bronson doesn't come close to a gray area between volunteer and professional department status.

Mongo also pointed out that all the firefighters on the force must be certified by the state. Lombardo said his force of 13 is close to that.

With the added responsibility of covering Otter Creek, a community of some 150 people located some 12 miles down S.R. 24, Mongo wondered about liability.

"Will our chances of being sued increase?" she wondered. "Liability is a big issue."

She believes scrutiny of the plan and input from Town Attorney Stephen Warm can only help make the picture clearer. Warm will look at the entire package before it would come before Town Council. The next meeting is scheduled for July 7.

Lombardo said the merger would help Otter Creek gain a ISO rating, which would result in lower property insurance rates. Otter Creek currently has no rating.

A merger could also allow use of Otter Creek's facility and limited equipment.

The night turned out to be a long one for Lombardo, as he was shot down asking for use of office space in the building that was formerly Town Hall.

Lombardo said he needed the office space for the security of vital records and papers.

The office Lombardo asked for is now vacant since Town Hall has moved into the nearby Jackson House.

However, there were no sympathetic ears from Council, as Lombardo was denied his request.