Firefighters reinstated during heated meeting
By Patrick McArdle / Staff Writer | June 18,2013
BENNINGTON - After a contentious meeting in a packed firehouse on Tuesday night, the chiefs of the Bennington Rural Fire Department voted to restore all 15 members who had been suspended last week to active duty.
Chief Shawn Gardner said he made the decision to “try to move this department forward.”'
The firefighters had been suspended because they were believed to have been involved in lighting a camper on fire at a Mudder's Day event May 12. The host of the event, Milo Campbell, was at the meeting and spoke strongly in favor of returning the firefighters to active duty.
Mudder's Day, which has taken place for six years, includes mud pits through which people drive as part of the day's contests and events.
The 15 people, most of whom were at Tuesday's meeting, were suspended because of a state investigation into the incident. The Bennington Rural Fire Department's bylaws call for a member to be “granted a leave of absence” if he or she is being investigated or charged with a crime related to the fire department.
About 100 people were at the meeting at the fire department's Willow Road firehouse. Many of them made angry comments about Gardner, accusing him of not standing behind his men.
There are two fire departments in Bennington, the Bennington Fire Department which is overseen by the town and the Bennington Rural Fire Department, which is funded by taxes collected within the fire district and overseen by a prudential committee.
On Monday, Joseph T. Hayes, a member of the prudential committee and fire department, was arraigned in Bennington District Court on a felony count of embezzlement. Hayes, who pleaded innocent, was accused of being involved in a raffle that was supposed to benefit the department. However, police said some of the raffle's winners and the fire department itself were never given their winnings.