By David Eck
NEWTOWN - Amid controversy over the fire chief being accused of drinking alcohol while in uniform, Village Council members Tuesday took the first step toward eliminating the fire department and joining the nearby Fairfax/Madison Place Joint Fire and Rescue Department.
By a 5-1 vote, council agreed to ask for membership in the joint district. If the district's board agrees, the next step would be for the district and Newtown to iron out final details and enter into a contract.
District officials have said they would be receptive to Newtown's participation.
The district board is scheduled to meet on Dec. 4 to consider Newtown's request.
The move follows allegations by several village firefighters that Chief Randy Haverland accepted a beer while in uniform at a public event, consumed some of it and then drove back to the fire station with an open container in a village vehicle.
Chief Haverland sat in a front row at Tuesday's meeting, but said nothing.
"I do not think it's the right thing for this village to do," Chief Haverland said after the meeting. "There is a lot of history in that fire department."
Under the proposal, firefighters would have the opportunity to apply for jobs with the joint fire district. The district, which was formed in 1996, serves Fairfax and parts of Columbia Township.
The district would agree to provide service to Newtown for no additional cost than what the village is collecting for fire service under an 8-mill fire levy approved in May.
That levy brings in $636,229 per year.
The district has agreed to provide service for $620,000 per year in a five-year agreement.
The district has also agreed to keep Newtown's fire station in operation, district officials said.
"They're going to be able to provide the village with a lot: the experience, the management, everything that we need," Councilman Ken Pulskamp said.
The district would provide at least four firefighters in the Newtown fire station during weekdays and three on nights, weekends and holidays, officials said. The district would also place upgraded and more modern fire equipment in Newtown.
"They stand to gain more with the merger than maintaining their independent service," Fairfax/Madison Place Fire Chief Tom Driggers said.
Officials from both sides hope to have the expanded joint district up and running by Feb.1.
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