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Citing Constituent Feedback, Cohen Changes Vote For Fire Study Committee

Based on feedback he got from constituents, Board of Selectmen member Irwin Cohen changed his vote for the Fire Study Committee from Patricia Webster and David Brown to Keith Graveline and Stephen Merlin

Because of what he said was overwhelming response from constituents after his vote on March 14 for former Board of Selectmen member Patricia Webster and former Easton Fire Chief David Brown for representatives in the Fire Study Committee, Irwin Cohen decided to change his vote at Monday night's Board of Selectmen meeting.

Cohen decided to instead vote for five-year Easton resident Keith Graveline and Affordable Housing Trust member Stephen Merlin.

The change ended a .

The other board members did not change their votes Monday night. and Ellen Barlow both voted for Graveline and Merlin and Sean Noonan voted for Merlin and Webster, making Graveline and Merlin the two selected to join Noonan in the three-person committee.

Cohen said many of his constituents did not feel Brown or Webster could objectively make recommendations regarding the fire department. While Brown is a former chief, Webster's husband and brother are both firefighters.

"One person said 'it would be like the fox guarding the chicken coop,'" said Cohen.

While Cohen changed his vote, he said he still believed Webster and Brown would have been objective. He said he originally voted for Brown and Webster on "the basis of their experience and also feeling that they could be independent and not allow perceptions to affect their decisions."

He said, however, that he had never received as much feedback as he did regarding his previous vote in his tenure as a member of the Board of Selectmen.

"There’s no question about how my vote was perceived the last time we met," he said.

According to the Fire Study Committee charge, the committee is appointed by the Board of Selectmen to study the following:

1. Should the Town move to permanently reduce the number of fire houses to two? Or should the Town continue to operate one fire house part time and work towards the eventual restoration of a full complement of staff?

2.    What number of fire personnel should be deployed to staff two fire houses if the town permanently reduces the number of active fire houses to two?

3.    Which location should be closed?

4. Are the two remaining locations appropriate? If not, generally speaking, what alternative location would produce an adequate result?

In the meantime, Town Administrator David Colton said the fire station on Depot Street would be closed on certain days depending on the number of personnel available to work. He said with the town facing a $1.75 million deficit in Fiscal year 2012, he will recommend that the three vacant positions in the fire department not be filled.

"[There will be] vacations, sick time, and personal days," said Colton. "If there are enough [firefighters], that station will be open. If not, the chief has no choice but to close the station."

Colton said that the fire study committee will need to determine if it is safe to keep one station closed at least part of the time. He said other options, including an override, would need to be considered if closing the station is a major detriment to public safety.

"If the response of the committee is 'no way you can’t close the station,' then we need to start thinking about other options," he said.

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