FARMINGTON — Franklin County area firefighters and town officials left a second regional fire service meeting Wednesday with a plan.
After comparing the strengths and challenges felt by the approximately 15 departments/towns represented at the meeting, nearly 60 firefighters, selectmen and town managers agreed to begin working together in three areas: grants, training and group purchases.
Facilitator William Guindon of the Maine Fire Service Institute suggested meeting within the next couple months to share what has been accomplished.
Three people were chosen to lead the work in each area.
Rangeley fire Chief Tim Pellerin will lead and share his experience to help departments work on grant funding.
Livermore Falls fire Chief Timothy “TD” Hardy will initiate a meeting within the next month to plan for more multiple department trainings in a centralized space.
“We have success with some things,” he said, mentioning an annual training session in January.
Farmington Town Manager Richard Davis will help the departments and towns work on joint purchases of apparatus and equipment. Once the fire departments indicate what they need, he plans to ask for help from Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments.
The council helps towns save on salt and culvert purchases for member towns in Franklin, Oxford and Androscoggin counties. Davis said he was not sure they could help with joint equipment purchases but will ask. He said he sees potential for savings, especially if the three counties worked together through AVCOG.
An initial meeting was hosted by Farmington in April to share concerns about fire service and to begin a collaborative effort among departments to work on them. Firefighters voiced challenges about money, manpower and aging equipment.
Guindon asked them to return to their departments and determine strengths, weaknesses and opportunities as a department and come to a second meeting to share their departments’ response.
At the second meeting Wednesday at Franklin Memorial Hospital, Guindon said he noticed an enthusiastic spirit of commitment, collaboration and cooperation has started.
Each town/department shared the challenges and opportunities on which they could start to build.
At the end of the meeting, when Guindon asked each person what they were taking away from the session, responses were positive. Responses included “people’s willingness to come to the table,” “small steps turn obstacles into opportunities,” “we’re heading in the right direction,” “small town or big town, we share the same problems,” “it’s great coming together with selectmen. We all care enough to come make a change for tomorrow.”
The challenges for volunteer fire departments are felt throughout Maine. Some departments are starting to look at various aspects of sharing but, as far as he knows, this is the first meeting bringing departments together to work together, Guindon said.
Nationally, firefighters are watching, he said of an article about Wednesday’s meeting which a national firefighters news organization, www.firehouse.com, ran online this week.
Challenges voiced by several fire departments included manpower, aging firefighters, a lack of daytime responders, radio communication dead spots in the county, the distance to respond, funding, aging equipment, regulations and a lack of standardization on equipment and whether departments perform duties the same way.
For one department, a small, 200-year-old fire station creates a challenge.
The lists of weaknesses were countered with long lists of opportunities, including grants, joint trainings, shared equipment, joint purchases, the Foster Technology Center training facility, community education and support.
Groups chose the three areas to start working on by consensus as each department marked the three they felt were the most important.
Opportunities also include “building bridges, like we’re doing here tonight,” Farmington fire Chief Terry Bell said.