Mutual fire aid costs spark call for meeting

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MEXICO – Providing mutual aid to neighboring Rumford’s fire calls is causing a serious impact on the Mexico Fire Department’s call force budget.

A special meeting of selectmen and fire chiefs from both towns took place Wednesday night to try to come to some kind of solution.

Mexico Fire Chief Gary Wentzell said his department has responded to 24 mutual aid calls from Rumford so far this fiscal year, resulting in a budget that isn’t expected to make it until the beginning of July.

He said he began the fiscal year last June with $18,500. With almost six months remaining, he has only $7,000 left.

In that same period of time, Rumford Fire Chief John Woulfe said Thursday afternoon that his department has responded to seven calls for mutual aid with neighboring Mexico. The Rumford Fire Department also responds to serious accidents in Mexico with its “Jaws of Life” equipment two or three times a year.

He said the town has had an unusually high number of structure fire calls this year, a factor that has led to the greater need for mutual aid.

Mexico is automatically toned out by the Oxford County Regional Communications Center whenever reports of structure fires, smoke, chimney fires, chemical leaks or alarms go off in Rumford.

“I want to get a grip on it, to find a way to do this differently,” Wentzell said.

What that might be isn’t known yet.

“I know there isn’t a lot of call force in Rumford,” Wentzell said.

He said his department has about 17 volunteers, most of whom meet the training standards for entering a burning building. Rumford also has about 17 volunteers, but only six meet the same training standards. Often, too few qualified interior fire-fighting volunteers respond to a structure fire call, Woulfe said.

Rumford also has a 14-member, full-time staff. Of those, four are on duty at any one time.

Woulfe said he plans to submit several ideas for building up the call force when the budget development process begins next month.

In the meantime, Rumford selectmen plan to meet one hour prior to next Thursday’s selectmen’s meeting to discuss the mutual-aid issue.

Mexico Town Manager John Madigan said the two boards may hold a second joint meeting once the Rumford board has met.

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