Aquinnah interested in two-town fire department

Selectmen agreed to open communication with Chilmark.

Aquinnah Fire Chief Simon Bollin and the board of selectmen support a suggestion made by Chilmark to study a merger with Aquinnah and West Tisbury. – File photo by Stacey Rupolo

–Aquinnah selectmen are interested in talking to Chilmark selectmen about merging their fire departments.

At a meeting Tuesday, the board of selectmen spoke with Aquinnah Fire Chief Simon Bollin about a suggestion made by Chilmark to study a merger with Aquinnah and West Tisbury.

West Tisbury has already rejected the idea and the proposal has sparked some significant pushback in Chilmark, where Fire Chief David Norton was not consulted about the idea.

West Tisbury Fire Chief Manuel Estrella III did not support the idea of a Tri-Town fire department. West Tisbury town administrator Jennifer Rand wrote a letter to Chilmark and sent a copy to Aquinnah town administrator Jeffrey Madison explaining West Tisbury’s lack of interest in a Tri-Town fire department with Chilmark and Aquinnah.

“The [West Tisbury] board feels that, for now, the current system of three individual fire departments is working and they do not wish to pursue this idea right now,” Rand wrote.

Despite West Tisbury’s rejection of the idea, Bollin and Aquinnah selectmen are interested in opening communication with Chilmark, and instructed Madison to reach back out to Chilmark officials about a study.

“It’s a unique opportunity,” Chief Bollin said, “I think combining the two up-Island fire departments of Chilmark and Aquinnah could have a positive effect for both towns.”

In presenting the idea, Chilmark selectman Jim Malkin said the towns could share resources. It’s getting more difficult for the towns to put together a call firefighting force, he said.

“I think it’s something we should look into,” Aquinnah selectman Gary Haley said.

“I agree,” chairman Jim Newman said.

Aquinnah and Chilmark already share emergency medical services with West Tisbury.

Aquinnah selectmen said they did not want to make a decision about the study of a regional fire department until they went over it with Chief Bollin first.

In other business, William “Buddy” Vanderhoop accused selectmen of violating the open meeting law, because the Aquinnah shellfish committee was not brought into a meeting about giving a fishing license to someone who didn’t meet the requirements for one. The person who had applied for the fishing license was not named.

Vanderhoop told selectmen that four of the five shellfish committee members voted no on giving the person a license, but the selectmen gave it to the person anyway. The shellfish committee should have been at the meeting when the person was given the license, but didn’t know it happened because it wasn’t on the meeting’s agenda, Vanderhoop said.

Vanderhoop contacted the Attorney General’s office and said the AG would be sending a letter to the town. Under the open meeting law, complaints are ultimately under the purview of the AG’s office.

“You shouldn’t have given [the person] permission to go scalloping. It was against the law. You broke the laws,” Vanderhoop said.

Madison told Vanderhoop that since he had submitted a formal complaint, he would have to wait until the Attorney General contacted the town.

Selectmen went over the warrant for a special town meeting, which will be held on March 6. Voters will be asked to cover a transfer of $2,958.78 for a bill to John Keene for excavation on the lighthouse walkway. Voters will also consider:

  • Changing the board of assessors from an elected to an appointed board.
  • Creating a stabilization fund for the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.
  • Spending money to create a walkway and barricade for the lighthouse and shops at the Gay Head Cliffs.
  • Spending to help operate tours of Gay Head Lighthouse.
  • Spending town funds on additional bandwidth for town assessors.


In an exercise in civics, a sixth grade science class in West Tisbury also asked selectmen to vote on adopting a law, during its special town meeting, that would outlaw anyone besides scientists or government employees from letting balloons filled with helium or gas lighter than air into the atmosphere. The goal of the bylaw is to prevent plastic balloons from falling into the ocean where they can harm aquatic life.


  1. Has ANYBODY discussed this with David Norton or any of the Chilmark Firefighters? This is just such an underhanded stance taken by Bollin as David Norton happens to be out of town. This will be the second time people have address a merger without going through the proper channels. Seem like there is some behind the scenes dirty dealing going on….just saying.

  2. Got the opportunity to watch MVTV Aquinnah BOS meeting on this subject. Impressed with how they are really in touch with their community as well as the respect they have for their Fire Chief.It also shows how little the Chilmark BOS is with theirs.

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