‘Transparency’ is only real fix

Within the past three years, Westfield formed a Board of Fire Commissioners to address a number of concerns facing the village Fire Department, including its finances, personnel and other internal issues. Last month, the board was abolished.

Barry Underwood, former chairman of the commissioners, in a letter to the editor on April 20, described the situation: “The fact is the (Board of Fire Commissioners) has been the recipient of many unfounded or unsubstantiated criticisms and has not been able to openly discuss some of the actions we had taken because of the confidential and legal issues involved. We were not trying to hide anything – much to the contrary – we wanted transparency and had worked diligently to achieve it.”

Underwood noted in the letter that members of the commissioners, just like the volunteers of the department, were not paid for their work. Commission members also grew frustrated by being the chief disciplinarian for the department because current leadership in the village or town did not want to touch the issue.

He even made pleas of assistance to those who created the commissioners for a criminal investigation. “The fire department can blame itself for any controversies which have arisen in the media and the village,” Underwood wrote. “If the fire department had just operated correctly according to New York state laws and its own bylaws, there would have been no issues for a (Board of Fire Commissioners) to even address!”

In writing the letter – or acting as commissioners chair, Underwood had nothing to gain. In fact, he had much more to lose by upsetting a key faction in a village of about 3,500 residents.

Make no mistake, the department has plenty of loyal volunteers. One of those volunteers, Judson Storms, will continue his round-the-clock efforts even though the future is uncertain. “Now we are in halftime and the game plan is not working,” he said at a recent meeting. “We must have a plan and redo what has been done so we can get the playbook for the second half of the game.”

But the game must be played by the rules.

A state comptroller’s report in 2012 called the finances of the department “poorly run and documented.” That must not be a slap in the face of all the volunteers, but it definitely falls at the feet of the officers of the department.

That, as Underwood noted, was never the fault of the Board of Fire Commissioners.