To the Editor:
This letter has been submitted to the Edgartown selectmen:
The undersigned have been following the situation that has been ongoing between the town of Edgartown and Jim Klingensmith, surrounding his disabling back injury incurred while on active duty at a fire scene in Edgartown almost three years ago. As we all know, his injury has caused him to lose his means of employment and has caused physical pain many of us could never imagine. We know this because many of us have seen firsthand the challenges he faces on a daily basis, challenges which have been made more difficult due to the town’s reluctance to treat their 35-year veteran volunteer firefighter as the dedicated servant he is.
Local government should put the safety and welfare of their residents first, and especially those who put themselves in harm’s way to protect their neighbors. Some of us have served as volunteer firefighters in our own communities. The last thing any of us think of is what will happen if l get hurt or even killed while performing my duty. A young man or woman rarely thinks of such possibilities. The volunteer fire department is similar to a club of sorts, and the musters, parades, dinners, and the like are unifying activities, giving members a greater sense of purpose, camaraderie, and pride in their town.
Jim Klingensmith’s unfortunate injury is bringing to light some serious issues surrounding how the town of Edgartown takes care of its own. In a struggling economy, all municipalities try to cut costs and conserve revenue wherever they can. But, it appears the town of Edgartown chooses to do the same with its volunteer firefighters. Edgartown is one of the wealthiest towns in the Commonwealth. Donations to the fire department have been generous over the years, allowing town government to allocate resources to other areas. It is mind-boggling to us that the selectmen haven’t led on this issue and showed all concerned that Edgartown does take care of its own. But no, the board directs its attorney to try and settle the matter with the least amount of funds under the law. If any one of us was a volunteer firefighter in Edgartown, we would be skeptical of the selectmen’s motivation at this time.
We, the undersigned, urge the selectmen to do the right thing and not that which is couched in “the law.” Jim is not asking for a lot. Perhaps it is time the six towns on Martha’s Vineyard sat down and considered the consequences of avoiding the inevitable responsibility of forming realistic procedures and better than adequate financial assistance packages for those who are injured and, God forbid, the families of those that are killed in the line of duty. Today’s volunteer firefighter is required to go through more extensive training and requirements. The knowledge that their town stands behind them in every way should be a no brainer.
(And 172 signatories.)