Spending – past, present, and future – was on the agenda and the minds of the membership at the Block Island Volunteer Fire Department’s monthly meeting on June 11:
Past spending: Treasurer Michael Lofaro said that the Department’s insurance will cover financial irregularities discovered in the past months and will not affect the bottom line.
Present spending: The members voted to pay a large number of bills coming due, for both routine expenses and big-ticket items including safety equipment ordered in recent months.
Future spending: The members approved a motion to spend up to $250,000 on the purchase of a new four-wheel-drive ambulance. They also heard a progress report on the selection of a new fire engine and learned that a “critical” piece of equipment will be repaired quickly.
The Fire Department issued a statement on May 14 saying that an annual review of its financial records uncovered what is being termed an “accounting discrepancy,” a matter that has now been turned over to the New Shoreham Police Department for a criminal investigation.
The statement said that the discrepancy “appears to be an isolated incident that occurred over several months, by one person. This person is no longer an active member of this Department.”
Lofaro was elected the BIVFD’s Treasurer at a special meeting on May 18. He had previously held that post for six years; “Now I’m back again.”
“Anything (from the Department’s accounts) that was misappropriated was covered by insurance, and it wasn’t a big amount,” he told The Block Island Times after the June meeting.
Lofaro is continuing his review of the BIVFD’s financial position, and told the members that the organization’s annual filing with the IRS is almost complete. He expects to give a more exhaustive report at a future meeting.
Speaking to the Times, Lofaro was more concerned about the BIVFD’s current spending, especially on replacements for its aging vehicles, breathing apparatus and “turnout gear,” the outerwear and boots firefighters wear when responding to calls. Invoices for equipment ordered in previous months were the largest items the members approved for payment in a list of current bills that was longer than usual for a monthly meeting.
The “air packs” have been received and mounted on the trucks, Deputy Chief Mike Ernst said, and more training sessions on their use will be scheduled. The last shipment of turnout gear is expected soon.
New England Fire Equipment had given a quote of $248,000 for the new ambulance, reported Foreman of the Drivers Peter McNerney. The vehicle will have a new stretcher similar to those recently ordered, said Rescue Squad representative Kate McConville. McNerney said he understood Town Finance Director Amy Land would write the specifications so that multiple bids will not be needed. Like all the other fire and rescue vehicles, the new unit will be owned by the town.
The membership approved a motion to spend up to $250,000 from its restricted fund on the new ambulance, intended to replace Rescue Unit 2.
Lofaro said he will talk to Land to work out the financing details, adding, “We should give (the town) a check for the difference” between the amount approved at Financial Town Meeting for the vehicle and the actual purchase price. “That is our contribution.”
McNerney also said the Truck Committee had met with one builder and was contacting another to get quotes on a new four-wheel-drive fire engine to replace Engine 1.
A more immediate concern is that the nozzle on the department’s lone ladder truck is out of service, McNerney continued. He said the replacement parts have been shipped, and he has arranged for a service technician to come from Long Island, NY, as soon as this weekend to install them.
“That’s a pretty critical piece,” commented Fire Lieutenant Chris Hobe.
“The repair guy is familiar with the truck, as if he had known the truck all his life,” replied McNerney.
One expense the Department may not have to bear is for six additional radios, part of the overall plan to deploy updated digital communications equipment to members. Ernst made a motion to ask the Ladies’ Auxiliary to buy the radios for the Department; “That’s what they’re there for,” McConville said. The motion passed unanimously.