There were a couple of things that took place at the meeting that went to my heart - and the heart of this project. The first was the fire chief's recommendation that the department cut out the October fund-raising breakfast. Not enough people come and it is not worth their effort. The June Chicken Barbecue is already gone. One by one, community events are slipping away. My stomach tightens. I want to stop the erosion; I want the rhythm of community life restored.
The second was about gas money. One of the fire fighters not present at the meeting has embarked on the basic fire-training course. This course is 180 hours - a lot of time, much more than it used to be when the older guys took it. Added to that, he must drive a considerable distance for the training. The issue under discussion was whether the man should be compensated for gas money. Ultimately the decision was to do so, but this conclusion was painful to all - not because they begrudge him the money, but because this decision means the thin edge of financial compensation has penetrated the fire house walls.
The firemen hold dear the principle of volunteerism. Everyone takes deep pride in receiving no compensation whatever for their many hours of service. This fact is a crucial part of their identity, their independence, their code. I encounter the attitude a lot in Vermont, the "don't insult me by offering money" attitude, and I love it. It is as refreshing and wholesome as a drink of cold water from a mountain spring. I'm hoping my project helps protect this crucial part of Vermont's environment.