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Quaker Hill residents still unsatisfied with fire coverage

Waterford — Residents remain unmoved by the town’s explanation for removing all paid firefighters from the Quaker Hill Fire Company.

Quaker Hill fire is one of five stations that provide Waterford’s townwide fire coverage. On Tuesday, Quaker Hill residents again engaged in a back-and-forth, town-hall style conversation with First Selectman Rob Brule, Fire Services Director Bruce Miller and Waterford Ambulance EMS manager Charles Bynum. The conversation resembled one held among the same parties on Sept. 1.

Quaker Hill Fire Co. Chief Vincent Ukleja has been leading an effort among residents to get the town to put a paid firefighter back on staff. Numerous Facebook posts, a petition, even a meeting among residents at the firehouse culminated in an in-depth discussion during a Sept. 1 Board of Selectmen meeting.

Though Brule and Miller have faced pressure to address the fire coverage complaints in Quaker Hill, they maintain that the town has stronger fire and emergency services coverage due to a recent agreement with Waterford Ambulance Service. The deal aims to ease the burden on firefighters by having Waterford Ambulance Service personnel be the primary responders to medical emergencies, with help from qualified firefighters if necessary.

But Quaker Hill residents say relying on paid staff assigned to Cohanzie and Jordan fire companies, which are centrally located and “provide the best means of access throughout town and the ability to respond to calls within time frames outlined in applicable guidelines,” according to Miller, is not good enough. They contend that Quaker Hill is getting the short end of the stick in a plan that’s supposed to benefit the whole town.

Janis Solomon of Quaker Hill said Tuesday that the people of Quaker Hill do not understand why the department lost a paid firefighter and that they are “very angry.”

“When I moved here 50 years ago, one of the things that impressed me about the location was the distance to the fire station, and the availability of help if needed,” he said. “I don’t understand the switch. Response time from Cohanzie to Quaker Hill is really unacceptable to us. You are using the data to basically write us off.”

Miller took exception to that characterization. “The protection has been centralized around the call base so that we can handle calls and get to everything in an adequate amount of time with the proper equipment,” he said Tuesday. “We’re not trying to leave anybody out, we’re trying to provide coverage on a townwide basis.”

Brule said in Quaker Hill, there were five fires over the past three years between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.

"It was the original data Bruce [Miller] showed me of why Monday-Friday 8 a.m.-4 p.m. part-time hours in Quaker Hill Fire Department were not as effective as 24/7 town-wide coverage," Brule said after the meeting.

He also said during the meeting that he was comfortable making the move because Quaker Hill has “the strongest fundamental volunteer fire department in the entire town.”

Ukleja said he had about 40 Quaker Hill residents at the firehouse to tune in to the Zoom meeting and offer comments or questions for the Board of Selectmen and Miller and Bynum if they wanted.

Ukleja contested the response times for getting from Cohanzie to the Quaker Hill Fire District, saying Miller was underselling them. He also disagreed with Brule’s characterization of the five or six structure fires over three years.

“We go to car accidents, water emergencies, utility emergencies, brushfire calls, water emergencies inside structures, we go to lift assists, the list goes on and on,” Ukleja said. “How can you base it on, say, five structure fires in a year when we do more than that?”

He said Tuesday night’s discussion was a “waste of time.”

“We didn’t get the answers we hoped for. It was basically a runaround,” Ukleja said. “I was hoping for some positive answers about staffing the Quaker Hill Fire Company again with part-timers.”

s.spinella@theday.com

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