Fit to Fight Fires

Age, conditioning and skill do not necessarily run in tandem. In that light, the Tisbury selectmen should reconsider their decision to enforce a mandatory retirement age of sixty five for members of the town’s volunteer fire department.

State law mandates that uniformed members of paid fire departments retire in the month that they turn sixty five. But many men and women of that age are still in peak health; some may even be healthier than they were at a younger age.

The selectmen’s decision was prompted by the case of Michael Carroll, a fire captain who turned sixty five last month.

Other members of the department paid tribute to Mr. Carroll’s conditioning and skill. A younger firefighter, Jesse Steere, who is forty five, told the selectmen: “Mike’s one of the best pump operators in the town of Tisbury and to see him go would be a tragic loss.”

In the end, the selectmen grandfathered Mr. Carroll as a department member, but decided to follow the advice of their legal counsel in establishing a mandatory retirement age for firefighters.

The apparent sticking point is the small stipends paid to members of the volunteer department, making them technically paid firefighters, and thus subject to the mandatory retirement law.

But it sounds like the town attorneys are being too literal and too legal-minded at a time when common sense should prevail.

Another interpretation could just as easily be found here — that the stipends are just that, a token payment for volunteer service. And that the test for a Tisbury firefighter is simply a test of sound mind and body — never mind the age.