Firefighters, solar panels to go up
VOORHEESVILLE — The village board here in June approved an increase in the number of firefighters the company can have, and agreed to sign a contract to install solar panels on both the firehouse and the village’s public-works building at no cost to the village.
Fire Chief David Gannon requested an increase in firehouse membership two months ago, and the board approved his request at its last regular meeting, raising the allowable number from 60 to 70 members.
Gannon told The Enterprise that recent membership applications increased the number of volunteers to 60, with one applicant placed on a waiting list. The previous membership threshold was a total of 60 firefighters, including adult volunteers and junior volunteers, or those under 18 years old. That threshold met the agreement the village board had to offer Length of Service Award Program coverage to a portion of the fire company’s members that met the criteria to receive awards through the program, which acts like a pension plan.
Municipalities pay a portion annually for each volunteer who meets volunteer hour and training requirements, which helps with recruitment and retention.
Of the previous membership at the fire company, the village paid LOSAP fees for 36 members who met the criteria, Voorheesville Clerk Treasurer Linda Pasquali told The Enterprise. The village pays $480 annually for each volunteer firefighter. Not including the LOSAP fees paid for ambulance service volunteers, the village paid $17,280 for the firefighters’ award program last year, Pasquali said.
“It adds up,” she said.
Gannon said that four new adult members brought the current roster to 58, while four junior firefighters also requested membership.
“We’re looking to expand [the roster] to accommodate more,” Gannon said.
In a village the size of Voorheesville, with a population of more than 2,700, a force of 60 firefighters means that 2 percent of the village serves as volunteer firefighters.
In other municipalities, according to the website for Penflex Inc., which administers many LOSAP programs, “Volunteer forces continue to decline in number while, at the same time, the average age of volunteers is on the rise. LOSAPs are critical tools in a department's recruitment and retention efforts.”
Voorheesville Mayor Robert Conway said that the village board approved the request to increase membership for coverage purposes.
“The more firefighters on the roster, the better,” Conway told The Enterprise. The fire department is a village department, so Gannon needed the board’s approval, Conway said.
According to Gannon’s request in May, the fire company sought 10 slots for junior volunteers. Conway said that Gannon explained that, even with the increase, the number of volunteers expected to receive LOSAP points would not change much. The goal for the larger roster, Conway said, was to make sure there are “volunteers in the pipeline” as older members continue to step away altogether or reduce their time in the firehouse.
The village of Voorheesville, which covers less than three square miles, is surrounded by the town of New Scotland, which has its own volunteer fire departments. Each year, The Enterprise publishes a compendium of local fire companies in which the departments report the number of calls they have answered so far that year. Voorheesville reported answering 62 calls in 2010, 100 in 2011, 36 in 2012, and 36 in 2013.
“We’re very fortunate. We certainly want to do whatever we can to encourage that participation,” Conway said of the increased number. “We’re comfortable with it.”
After two months of review, the Voorheesville board agreed to sign a contract with Monolith Solar to have solar panels installed on both the firehouse and the village’s Department of Public Works building.
According to village board minutes, Monolith Solar representative Lindsey McIntire explained that the panels would be installed at no cost to the village, but that the company would retain ownership of the panels, and keep all rebates available due to installation. Under the proposal, the village would buy back power from Monolith at a reduced cost to the village. Monolith suggested that the village could save $100,000 with a 20-year contract.
At the board’s regular May meeting, Village Attorney Richard Reilly expressed doubt about the contract, calling it “iffy,” and noting that the village had a right to cancel it.
Conway told The Enterprise that the contract with Monolith was finalized last week. The panels should be installed during this construction season, he said. A 60-day opt-out period for the contract will begin once the panels are installed, Conway confirmed.