‘Safer, cheaper, better’: Chautauqua area fire departments begin merger process

OBSERVER Photos by Gregory Bacon Attorney Brad Pinsky outlines the steps needed to merge the Mayville, Dewittville and Hartfield fire departments.

MAYVILLE – A new fire department that will offer protection for one village and two hamlets in the town of Chautauqua could be in place by this summer.

On Wednesday, representatives from the Mayville, Hartfield and Dewittville fire departments met together for about an hour with attorney Brad Pinsky at the Chautauqua Municipal Building to discuss merging the three departments into one.

Pinsky, from Syracuse, has done these types of mergers around the state. He said it is his goal to have this process completed sometimes between July 1 and July 15. The reason for the quick timeline, he said, is because he wants to give the new fire department’s leadership plenty of time to create a budget, which will need to be in place by the fall.

The new joint district will cover most of the town of Chautauqua, excluding what is covered by the Chautauqua Fire Department, which covers the Institution and that end of the town. There is also a small portion that is covered by the Sherman Fire Department and there has been no talk of changing that.

The newly formed department is proposed to be called the North Lake Fire District.

Members of the Mayville, Dewittville and Hartfield fire departments are pictured, along with other community members, who gathered to hear about the steps needed to merge the three fire departments.

Pinsky was contacted earlier this year by the three fire departments to begin the process to merge the departments. He sees many benefits to a single department, saying mergers can save money, get more grant funds and also help volunteers work together better.

One immediate savings is insurance. He said the merged group can get better rates than the three departments can individually.

In the longer run, a single department can save on money from what it spends for equipment and vehicles. “We duplicate too many things. Why? Because we operate like an island. The reason to consolidate is to operate like a community and not like three separate islands. It will be safer, cheaper and better,” Pinsky said.

He also said a single department can get more grant funds. Generally when a fire department applies for state or federal funds, the governmental agency will make its decision based on call volume. “For grants, only primary calls, not mutual aid, is what the big factor is,” Pinsky said.

But for Pinsky, a 32-year volunteer firefighter and a four-year chief, the number one reason he supports fire department consolidation is because he believes a single department offers better protection for the community. “Think of it like a football team. You have three separate football teams now taking the field, while they’re fighting a fire. They all have three separate plays, three separate uniforms, three separate trainings, three separate everything. The game’s not going to go well. So what consolidation does is it gives us one chief and one board of fire commissioners,” he said.

By having a single fire department, there’s going to be one set of policies, one training program. “Unified policies, unified trainings save lives,” Pinsky said.


Pinsky had the Hartfield and Dewittville fire departments adopt a plan of dissolution. The Mayville Village Board will need to take steps at its next meeting to abolish its fire department and the Chautauqua Town Board will need to take steps to dissolve the fire protection districts.

A public hearing will take place on May 28 at the Chautauqua Municipal Building for the public to comment. Pinsky said the public will not vote on dissolution, although residents could force a public referendum to halt the merger through a petition process. He added that he has never had that happen during any of the mergers he’s worked on.

Pinsky noted there’s a number of issues that will need to be addressed, including if all three buildings will remain open, the cost of renting the Mayville Fire Hall, what to do with any outstanding debt from a department, who will be the chief, who will be on the board of fire commissioners, and if the commission members, treasure and secretary are elected or appointed positions.

Pinsky said the Board of Fire Commissioners can have three to seven members. He personally recommends five.

Some people in the audience suggested one fire commissioner come from each department, the village board appoint one member and the town board appoint one member. Pinsky thought that was a reasonable suggestion, although no final decisions were made.


Pinsky said he charges a flat fee of $40,000 for his work, plus mileage expenses. He believes that if the area fire departments seek a grant from the state, his cost will be completely covered.

He added that New York has lots of grant funds available for merging fire departments and because this is not just two, but three departments, he thinks they will be eligible for a lot of funding. “There are fire districts who merged just two fire districts and got $600,000,” he said.

The money can be used to not only pay the legal fees from Pinsky’s office, but also new helmets, turnout gear, re-lettering trucks, and more.

Noel Guttman, who is the director of the county’s Emergency Services and a member of the Mayville Fire Department, said he would assist in the grant writing.

There are 42 fire departments in Chautauqua County. In an earlier interview, Guttman was unaware of any other departments that are actively seeking to merge, but noted that should this one take place, it could create a blueprint plan for other departments to follow if they feel it will better serve the needs of their communities.


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