OXFORD – Increasing difficulties with daytime coverage and other problems may lead to greater cooperation among three area volunteer fire departments.

Fire chiefs and town managers from Norway, Paris and Oxford, as well as representatives from the departments and town governments, met Tuesday morning at the Oxford town office to discuss the issue.

“During the daytime, I’m very short-staffed,” Paris fire Chief Brad Frost said.

Frost said most calls to the Paris department this year have been in the morning, when fewer volunteers are available to respond. He said the situation may lead to responses where the department has to decide whether to go into a building or fight a fire defensively while waiting for backup.

One problem in having daytime coverage is the loss of local businesses, such as the Robinson woolen mill and A.C. Lawrence tannery. Their closures led people to commute greater distances for work.

Oxford fire Chief Scott Hunter said his department employs four daytime workers: two firefighters and two rescue staff.

“In our business, time is a major factor,” Hunter said. “The sooner we get personnel there, the sooner we can save lives and property.”

Norway fire Chief Michael Mann, who spoke to his selectmen in February about daytime shortages, said he has considered the possibility of combining the departments under a single chief in an attempt to share costs and expand coverage.

“We’re getting to the point where it isn’t safe for the people,” Mann said.

The three towns already have a mutual-aid agreement that bolsters the response to fires and other emergencies. Hunter said the smaller daytime forces are usually able to handle minor emergencies, but he has sometimes had to rely on more than a dozen departments for large-scale daytime emergencies.

The chiefs also noted how state Bureau of Labor Standards and the hours needed to become a certified firefighter are driving away volunteers.

“It’s a huge commitment as far as timewise,” Hunter said. “It’s getting to the point where there’s not a whole lot of people who want to do that anymore.”

The town managers agreed to bring the subject up with their selectmen, although they requested that the chiefs submit a model for coverage.

“I’d really like to see ample time to study and put it into place,” Norway Town Manager David Holt said. “I’d certainly like to see it happen and work well.”

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