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Firefighters talk about improving image of department in Marilla

Two Marilla Fire Department officials had a pointed message for the Town Board this week: Don't judge the whole department by the actions of a few.

Department President William Blarr and James Fontaine, a 2 1/2 -year member, appeared at the board's work session Tuesday to discuss how the department's image could be improved following an uproar over a firefighter's confrontation with a town resident.

The invitation was sparked by an incident last month between a firefighter and a resident over where she should move her car parked near the fire hall on Two Rod Road.

Darlene Thuman said she was verbally harassed by an angry firefighter who pounded on her car and shouted obscenities at her. She later wrote letters about it to the Town Board and Erie County Sheriff's Office.

Blarr said many firefighters were unhappy with critical remarks made about them at board meetings on Aug. 9 and Aug. 11, calling them irresponsible and insensitive. He was referring to a town official who suggested the Fire Department take sensitivity training in dealing with the public.

"Perhaps if you could witness our members standing on their feet for hours putting out fires, carrying calves out of burning barns, standing by for hours to help out neighboring fire departments, you would understand better what we do," Blarr said. "We count on your respect, and we have a system in place to address issues like what happened with the fireman who was accused of verbally harassing a resident."

That firefighter was suspended for 30 days, he said.

Fontaine said he has answered more than 100 calls, averaging three hours if they involve a hospital trip, often having to stay with the patient until they are seen by emergency personnel.

Blarr extended an invitation to the entire board to visit the fire hall to see what goes on. Blarr said this would be more beneficial than a once-a-year meeting regarding a budget.

"We have lots of moving parts," he said.

Supervisor George Gertz, also a firefighter, said the fire company is always in a state of flux with members. It depends on the time of day and type of call.

Last week, 18 showed up for a fire, but from 2 a.m. to 7 p.m., it's a totally different fire company, he said.

"Twenty percent of the people do 90 percent of the work, just like most organizations," he noted.