Waitsfield’s emergency response efforts (and those of Warren, Fayston and Moretown) during COVID-19 are now separate from other community response and volunteer efforts in The Valley, according to Waitsfield emergency management director Fred Messer.
Messer said that he and his wife, Carla, resigned over the weekend from their positions as Mad River Valley Emergency Response Team incident commander and director of planning over issues with access to a volunteer database created by community members.
At the Waitsfield Select Board meeting on April 6, the Messers presented the select board with a list of four points that they asked the select board to approve. In an April 6 email to the town prior to the select board meeting, the Messers asked to “rewind the clock to Friday morning, April 3, and forget what anybody said or did.”
Then they asked for the following four points to be approved, which the board did, appointing select board member Kellee Mazer to be the board’s point of contact with the emergency response team:
- We ask for a vote of confidence of Waitsfield’s trained and appointed emergency management director/emergency management coordinator (EMD/EMC) team.
- That the select board recognizes only one emergency response team’s effort in Waitsfield which is led by their appointed EMD/EMC.
- That the select board supports the decisions made by the EMD/EMC as long as those decisions are legal, ethical and within the guidance provided by the select board.
- A select board member to whom we can report and receive guidance from the Board. (Kellee?)
When interviewed on April 8, Fred Messer said he and Carla quit after the select board asked him not to fire the nurse who had been coordinating volunteer sign-up and efforts, Jess Tompkins, RN. He said he hadn’t been able to get access to the database that had been created.
Asked how the four points he and Carla asked the select board to approve would solve the problem of access to volunteers, he said it would not but noted that he would be setting up a command structure in conformance with Vermont statute where he would coordinate with each town’s EMD and each EMD would keep its select board informed. He said that he and Carla would collect information emailed by the state and share with local EMDs.
“The local EMDs are not working with the community volunteer group anymore. We will get volunteers from the state’s database,” Messer said.
Asked about duplication in effort at the state and local level in coordinating volunteers, Messer said, “It’s resolved. They’re not part of the relief effort anymore.”
“Their plans were way too complex and not sustainable. I don’t need 260 volunteers who can’t leave their houses. I don’t know what the ladies are doing now. They’re not sanctioned by the town governments. They have no authority or credibility with the select boards of The Valley,” he added.
Asked who “the ladies” are, he said Tompkins and Rebecca Baruzzi, program director for the Mad River Valley Community Fund.
“We’re continuing with our mission of serving the community and giving out grants to people who have been impacted financially by COVID-19 and we continue to work with safety net orgs to make sure everybody that we’re aware of is taken care. We serve the community,” Baruzzi said.
Tompkins, in a letter to the community, said that local volunteer efforts were continuing and that she would continue her work as the Mad River Valley Emergency Response coordinator.
“Families and individuals have been connected to volunteers to shop and deliver food. Systems are in place to help deliver emergency medications from pharmacies. Groups of people are sewing masks; helping neighbors protect one another. Restaurants are freezing meals and a food drive is underway for a secondary food system. Many businesses, restaurants and both veterinarians have offered their assistance when and if needed. We continue to be a hub to help coordinate these efforts working with area nonprofit and volunteer organizations and the Mad River Valley Health Center to ensure that all of our citizens have easy access to the appropriate supports that are available,” she wrote in her letter, which also provided two websites for people to volunteer.
The local site is https://sites.google.com/view/madriveremergencyresponse/home.
The state of Vermont site for volunteers to help with FEMA support efforts is https://www.vermont.gov/volunteer.