The Copenhagen Volunteer Fire Department finally came to the realization that maintaining a drill team was not in the cards.

During a Sept. 26 meeting of the Village Board of Trustees in Copenhagen, Fire Department President Patrick F. Mahar announced that the team will exist in name only. No firefighters will participate in any drills. The name will be kept only to allow club members to officiate at other firematics events.

Last year, village trustees voted to stop funding the team. Members of the Fire Department asked officials to reinstate the money, but they declined.

The issue behind the board’s decision last year to cease funding the drill team was “the high cost of workers’ compensation cases resulting from past injuries,” according to a story published June 28 by the Watertown Daily Times. Mayor Kenneth Clark asked for a motion the previous day to reconsider the matter; no trustee offered one.

The Fire Department attempted to separate its worker’s compensation insurance from that of the village so that members could pay for their own policy to include the drill team. This would have required officials to separate the drill team from the Fire Department, and there was simply no practical way to accomplish this.

The vague nature of the drill team’s future concerned many people. During a meeting in September, village resident Shareef Stokely chastised trustees for not making it clear to the Fire Department that the team had to disband.

“Someone on the board needs to tell them that there’s no more drill team because I can’t afford any more taxes. So please, somebody on the board, tell them there is no drill team,” Mr. Stokely said, according to a story published Sept. 11 by the Watertown Daily Times.

Mr. Clark pushed back, stating that the board told the Fire Department that the team had ceased to exist. But Trustee Kim Vogt backed up Mr. Stokely sentiment. She said the board withheld funding but never specified that the drill team should be disbanded.

The board could have handled this part of the story better by passing a motion at some point calling for the dissolution of the drill team. In addition, Mr. Clark became way too defensive during the meeting. He interrupted Mr. Stokely and called for the meeting to adjourn over the objection of Mrs. Vogt and other people present.

The heated interaction between Mr. Stokely and the mayor continued once the meeting ended. The Times article reported the exchange included “angry comments and insults that resulted in threatening posturing and a demand by the mayor for the clerk to call the police.”

Based upon Mr. Clark’s insistence, a Lewis County sheriff’s deputy and state trooper came to the village’s offices. After speaking with the mayor, they said there were no grounds for charges or a ticket.

This was an unfortunate result of the meeting. Residents need to believe that their concerns are being taken seriously by village officials, and public figures should never feel threatened. Civil discourse is the only way to accomplish anything positive.

Despite all this, the matter worked out for the best in the end. The Fire Department concluded there’s no way to fund a drill team, and officials have cut their losses. While this decision came a year late, it was the appropriate move.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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