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Pine Plains Fire Co. has annual election

PINE PLAINS — The results of the Pine Plains Fire Company’s annual election on Thursday, Dec. 9, may or may not be of surprise to those in the community — depending on how much they know about firehouse politics. According to those inside the fire station, there are always politics to deal with — that’s just the nature of the beast. Yet when those sirens blare, all politics are put aside and the business of saving lives is the only thing on the minds of each and every volunteer who dons their gear.

“No matter what anybody has to say when we’re inside the firehouse, when we’re on a call together, we’re together,” said newly re-elected Pine Plains Rescue Squad First Lt. Veronica “Ronnie” Brenner Walsh, wife of newly re-elected Fire Chief and town Supervisor-elect Brian Walsh. “I have watched for 23 years a lot of stuff go down. Never have I seen any firefighter go public with anything. I’m not sure why this is happening; I’m not sure what the goal is with this. Pine Plains is a great town.”

The uncertainty Ronnie referenced has to do with a Nov. 29 fire drill, in which the fire company’s 30 or so members gathered for their weekly training and at which time some firefighters announced their candidacy for last week’s election. The routine session turned out to be anything but the norm.

The do’s of a drill

At a typical drill, according to former Second Assistant Fire Chief Steven Camburn in a Dec. 2 interview, the sessions usually include a combination of class work, hands-on training, practice of the various apparatus, work with tools and equipment, practice on the fire company’s safety course, checking of the fire company’s equipment, safety checks of the fire hoses, etc.

“It’s very broad spectrum,” said Camburn. “It encompasses a lot.”

Nov. 29 drill

What happened on the 29th, though, created some extra strain.

“At election time there is always tension,” said Walsh later. “It doesn’t matter what department you’re from; it doesn’t matter anything, it’s just the nature of firehouse elections.”

Word seeped beyond what are usually very thick firehouse walls, often opaque to the general public, that Fire Chief of six years (and volunteer firefighter for more than 15) Walsh had differing views than a couple of firefighters who had stepped forward to announce their candidacy for the Dec. 9 annual election.

Those firefighters were Camburn and Assistant Chief Marc Dillinger, who happen to be half-brothers. The pair had stepped forward during the yearly fire company election process.

Dillinger had expressed his intention to run for fire chief; Camburn reportedly planned to run for treasurer.

Some kind of disagreement took place at the drill when the two firefighters announced their candidacy, but none of those involved would speak about the details or against any of their fellow firefighters. They would only say that it will all iron out after the election and the top brass in the fire company rules on the matter.

Not in writing

The fire chief said both Dillinger and Camburn officially resigned at the drill. He attributed it to the fire company’s bylaws.

“That’s true,” said Walsh.

The two firefighters in question disagreed, though, because their resignations weren’t in writing.

Dillinger said on the night of the drill, he left his gear at the firehouse, as did Camburn. They were merely making a statement, he said. He added the friction was really about “a little bit of everything: bylaws and being in the pandemic… and about health and safety.”

He also confirmed his intent to run for fire chief against Walsh with this newspaper on Dec. 2.

According to Ronnie, Dillinger was allowed to run Dec. 9 “because at that point everybody was so tense we just didn’t say anything,” despite that he seemed to have resigned at the November drill.

Company versus district

The Pine Plains Fire Company is a separate entity with a different purpose than the Pine Plains Fire District — which charges taxes and has a separate budget.

The fire company holds drills once a week and monthly company meetings to discuss business, during which it pays its bills. Those drills and meetings are not open to the public nor are they videotaped.

Chair of the Dutchess County Legislature Gregg Pulver (R-19) is a 20-year member of the Pine Plains Fire Company and a former volunteer firefighter, and former Pine Plains town supervisor. He explained the difference between the function of the fire company and of the fire district.

“There’s the fire district, run by the fire commissioners; they take care of the district budget,” said Pulver. “That would be the taxpayers’ budget and money they receive in taxes. The fire commission is responsible for overseeing that budget. Then there’s the fire company, which is more of a social institution, and there are different bylaws and stuff that run it.”

The fire district holds its own separate meetings, which are open to the public. The district’s regular monthly meeting is typically held on the third Tuesday of the month, at 7:30 p.m. at the Pine Plains firehouse.

Election bylaws

Walsh said the resignations on Nov. 29 had to do with election protocols and company bylaws. The fire company holds annual elections in December; candidates announced their intent to run on Nov. 29 this year.

Walsh, a Republican, who won the Nov. 2 general election for Pine Plains town supervisor against two-term Democratic incumbent Darrah Cloud, noted holding the dual roles will not be a problem.

He added the two firefighters’ resignations were because “the individual[s] in question did not meet our bylaws, so they could not run.”

Small department

“The whole thing is a political wild goose chase,” said Walsh. “That’s what happens in a small town when you have a small fire department.”

Camburn, when asked before the election, said it’s “an internal issue right now,” adding “the key factors are being put in front of the people that it needs to go in front of.”

He added the president and vice president of the fire company are looking into the matter.

“Technically I didn’t resign, I just left my gear there,” he said on Friday, Dec. 3, again stressing it wasn’t an official resignation. “With our department, you have to either submit a letter [of resignation] or verbally state that [you’re resigning], and then the president of the company would have to accept that statement.”

He said neither happened — adding he has no intention to formally follow through with either process — nor does his half-brother, Dillinger, who was assistant chief for two years. Camburn also served as the second assistant chief for two years.

Ronnie said that’s not entirely accurate.

“If you resign verbally, then that can be accepted; they both did,” she said.

At 38, Camburn has volunteered with the Pine Plains Fire Company since he was a junior in high school.

“My mother is in the firehouse, my brother is in the firehouse, my sister-in-law is in the firehouse,” he said.

Professionals, everyone

Like Ronnie, Camburn assured residents not to worry about any friction within the firehouse affecting emergency services in town.

“It’s not going to affect the service of the fire company,” he said. “They’re going to still respond or go to whatever house regardless of who they are. Any political feelings anyone has, they don’t care, they’re still going to do what they have to do, that’s it. It doesn’t affect the outcome.”

Bylaws versus COVID

Camburn also noted that for him, one of the biggest issues has to do with dealing with the current COVID crisis.

“I don’t really think it’s the bylaws; it’s the criteria of what’s in it,” he said. “I think with COVID and all this stuff, it’s changing some things that are in play, and some things aren’t in play, and it’s just causing a conflict. Pretty much everything that COVID touches causes a mess… The bylaws just need, not an overhaul, but it needs an update. That’s what the hiccup is.”

Dillinger added that “when you have to follow certain guidelines, from the county and state, it makes it hard to get certain things done.”

He also noted that “everybody’s got to work together… if not, nothing gets changed… one person can come up with an idea, but they can’t change things on their own. It’s a group effort.”

Saving lives the priority

Walsh stressed the fire company is there to do a job, and that’s priority number one.

“We’re volunteers and we’re here to help the community,” he said. “We’re the first ones you call no matter what it’s about when something is wrong.”

Camburn added he just wants to put out fires and ensure the fire company continues to exist for years to come.

“The firehouse needs people; it’s a good organization,” he said. “This is just a hiccup about the bylaws, that’s mostly it. I’m just a hose dragger.”

Ronnie agreed.

“We do our best. There are people who love us and people who don’t. We do what we can between work and family,” she said. “We’ve had this rough year. We just lost our chief, Bob Cahill, who was 80-something — he probably had his first diaper change at the firehouse. Then we lost Larry Pariseu, our chaplain; and now we just lost life member Ron Parliman. So it’s been a really tense year at the fire company. A sad year.”

“But this is a great group,” she added. “I’ve been at other departments and I’ve been here 23 years, and this is one of the better groups I’ve seen.”

 

Support your local fire departments and other essential nonprofit services in your community with end of year giving.

 

New slate of officers

 

Pine Plains Fire Company

• Fire Chief Brian Walsh

• First Assistant Chief Ray Brown

• Second Assistant Chief Mike McCarthy

• Captain Matt Cade

• First Lieutenant Tyson Klay

Pine Plains Rescue Squad

• Captain Nia Carey

• First Lieutenant Veronica “Ronnie” Brenner Walsh

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