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Restrictions on Norwood Fire department draw ire

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NORWOOD — Things are heating up between the Norwood Fire Department and the village.

The village is negotiating its annual contract with the department, which includes new restrictions meant to reduce costs.

Although Mayor James H. McFaddin said things are going well, some members of the department are seeking legal action against the village, claiming the restrictions go too far.

The first new rule already has taken effect. Only authorized personnel are allowed in the department headquarters, in the basement of the Norwood Municipal Building, which used to serve as a hangout for members past and present.

The change was made to minimize the risk of accidents, Mr. McFaddin said. The village expects to pay $114,000 in workers’ compensation expenses this year, more than half of which is a result of an undisclosed accident at the headquarters.

In addition, the village is moving to cap the number of department members at 45. There are only 44 members now, including honorary former firefighters.

According to Mr. McFaddin, upcoming federal regulations will require the village to pay health insurance for fire department members, and a cap was put in place to keep costs in check.

Fire department Treasurer Timothy F. Donahue, one of the most outspoken critics of the restrictions, said the cap on members will limit much-needed recruitment efforts in a rapidly aging department.

“I’m 71 years old. I’m still an active fireman, but I don’t run into burning buildings,” he said.

Mr. Donahue and several other department members have met with an attorney to prepare a possible case against the village. They plan to argue that the department is incorporated into the village and should not need a contract to operate as normal.

Despite the criticism, Mr. McFaddin said, negotiations are moving forward.

“Our first negotiation session went very well with the chiefs,” he said. “Those are the ones we negotiated with.”

The contract was extended until April to allow more time to negotiate.

Chief Roy Garrow could not be reached for comment Friday, and First Assistant Chief Gary Bancroft declined to comment.

Jack Upham, third assistant chief, said he attended the meeting with the lawyer, but is not against the mayor. He said he does not want to pick a side until all the facts are known.

“I’m trying to learn both sides,” he said. “We’re just trying to see where we stand.”

The controversy sparked rumors that the lauded Norwood Brass Firemen band was at risk, but Mr. McFaddin said this is not the case.

The band is not, legally speaking, part of the department, he said, but it will continue to operate as normal. The village will continue to fund the band as it always has, without disbanding or defunding it, he said.

“Never has that even been mentioned,” he said.

The fate of the fire department is expected to be discussed at Monday’s 5 p.m. village board meeting.

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