Berlin’s rolling tide of positive media exposure ebbed this week when the Mayor and Council yanked government funds from the long-esteemed Berlin Fire Company (BFC).
Dating back to early this year, the BFC has been embroiled in controversy, largely surrounding allegations of in-house misbehavior by members toward each other and specific claims of harassment involving sexual preference and race. Reports and tips to this publication were vague in nature but nonetheless disturbing if true even in the least bit.
In a detailed four-page press release distributed widely by Mayor Gee Williams, the former newspaper editor lays out the city’s position.
“The Mayor and Council are unanimous in our belief that financial support from the town for the fire company be withheld until such time that the few BFC volunteers or paid EMS employees who engaged in what we believe to be unacceptable workplace harassment at the fire house are no longer affiliated with the Berlin Fire Company in any manner, even if this takes several years to accomplish,” the mayor said.
In a paid advertisement, the BFC, while defending itself against the town’s specific claims, maintains the split will allow it to operate in the best fashion for the community.
“The Fire Company believes that it is much better situated to continue providing fire and emergency medical services to the people of Berlin and the surrounding areas than the Town,” the BFC ad read. “First and foremost, the fire company has the knowledge, expertise and experience to do so. Further, due to the commitment, devotion, service and sacrifice of its volunteers, the Fire Company is able to provide the services at a severely reduced cost to the Town. “
There are two clear lines of division here, but the most important issue beyond the political foray is the safety and well-being of our community. Both sides can agree to that but the main question remains: Will this uproar cause any difference in emergency services?
The BFC gave an emphatic no this week, while the town challenged the BFC to maintain its services without the $557,360 that was to be funded in the current fiscal year.
In these sorts of ugly situations that involve both sides personally invested, nobody wins. The critical component here is to ensure the public sees no change in services while this situation plays out in the public realm and potentially into the court system.
We will watch and report with interest while believing the BFC that no difference in service will be noticed as legal and political matters continue to boil.