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Joint boards question alcohol in Fire Hall

The quarterly meeting between the Town of Somerset and the Village of Somerset on Tuesday, July 27 focused on an incident at the Fire Hall during Pea Soup Days.

According to Travis Belisle, Somerset Fire/Rescue chief, after the water fights in downtown Somerset some beer was available for those fire department members older than 21 as a gesture of camaraderie.

"It was back in the storage room -- not out here in public view," Belisle said.

"We had 6-7 sober people here for calls and St. Joe (Fire/Rescue department); we were covered," he continued.

Ron Hill, member of the village board, expressed his concern over the issue.

"It's a huge liability," Hill said. "What if a major business catches on fire and you only have a few people available?"

"Unfortunately that could be 365 days a year since we are a volunteer fire department," Belisle answered.

Some board members expressed concern if someone was to leave the premises drunk, get into an accident and come back to sue the town and village.

Jeff Johnson, village president, asked if there was a policy concerning alcohol on the premises.

Belisle said that there might be one in the bylaws, but the fire chief has the right to make an exception for one day a year to have beer on site.

Some of the board members questioned whether or not the fire department should get a conditional use permit for that day. Johnson said that was only applicable for nonprofits to sell alcohol.

Somerset Police Department Sergeant Mike Kappers said that someone had taken a picture of the beer keg and posted it on Facebook. He was concerned that the public would be upset knowing there was a party at the Fire Hall.

"I contacted a few fire departments and it's a 50/50 deal," Hill said, referring to the amount of departments that allow alcohol on site. "Of the 50 percent that have it now, they said it's coming to an end.

"As far as I'm concerned," he continued, "it's a liability no matter what about having it on the property. I'd rather have it somewhere else rather than here (at the Fire Hall)."

"I can appreciate the camaraderie between the other departments, but we're concerned about the liability," Johnson said.

The boards asked Belisle to look into what the insurance policy states about the issue.

"I will talk to the insurance company," Belisle agreed. "If they say we can't do it, we won't."

In other news:

• Belisle said that the Argo, an off-road vehicle the department uses to fight fires, sustained about $3,000 in damages during a school fire earlier this year. The underside needs to be replaced.

• The town discussed putting new blacktop on 180th Street, but was concerned that the village was planning to annex the property. They wanted to know if they would be reimbursed should the village annex anytime soon.

• Somerset Fire/Rescue submitted a $4,100 bill for the Country Splash weekend to the village. According to the agreement, the village is responsible for paying the department and then it's up to the village to collect from the concert venue. Johnson said he will submit the bill to the finance committee of the village board.

• The next joint meeting between the Village and Town of Somerset will be Tuesday, Sept. 28 at 7 p.m. in the Village Hall. The public is welcome to attend.