FARMINGTON — Fire Chief Terry S. Bell Sr. recently received certification as Chief Fire Officer Level 1 through the Maine Fire Chiefs’ Association.

He joins 35 other chief fire officers throughout the state to attain the certification, he said.

“It’s an accomplishment,” Bell said. 

Although a member of Farmington Fire and Rescue since April 4, 1977, and a chief officer for 29 of those years, he found the process of applying for certification eye-opening.

“You don’t realize what you’ve done until it’s put together,” he said.

There are three levels of certification, based on a point system. Level 1 requires 50 points; Level 2, 75 points; and Level 3, 100 points, he said.

Points are given in areas such as experience, formal education, professional contributions and community involvement.

He earned 29 points, one for each year as a a chief officer, he said.

“This is a great honor for our Fire Department and a credit to our chief’s dedication to his profession,” Town Manager Richard Davis said in an email. “I’m very proud of him, and the citizens should be aware of his achievement.”

Deputy Chief Clyde Ross previously earned the certification and Deputy Chief Tim Hardy is in the process of applying, Bell said.

When Bell started as a firefighter in 1977, he thought he might like to become a captain. An opportunity came up to apply for assistant chief, then he became deputy chief and once the late Robert McCleery retired, Bell became chief.

“Love it,” Bell said of the work. “I like coming to work every day.”

He explained one of the biggest changes in the department over those years as chief.

“I’m not the only one here now,” he said.

In 2007, Bell requested two per diem workers for weekdays. At town meeting in March, voters agreed to increase that number to three during the week and two available on Saturday and Sunday, he said.

Facing a volunteer shortage, three per diem firefighters can do a lot, he said. The weekend manpower assures someone is at the station every day.

“It’s uncharted ground,” he said of the effort to postpone hiring a full-time paid staff.

“It’s a difficult time,” he said. “People are not volunteering.”

People either have too many jobs, work out of town or have families and don’t want to commit to being a firefighter, he said.

Farmington will host a meeting April 30 at Franklin Memorial Hospital to discuss the issues local fire departments are facing.

“I feel this meeting is an education for everyone,” he said. He hopes representatives from boards of selectmen and town managers attend, he said.

“We do have problems,” he said of each department. Bell said he thinks concerns in some departments may not have been expressed to town officials.

Volunteering is a big commitment, he said. The hours needed for training can cause firefighters to make some difficult decisions. They want to participate, but do they go to their child’s baseball game or attend a firefighters meeting? he asked.

Bell is upfront with applicants.

“Family is most important; it comes first,” he said. “Then it’s your job, and then the Fire Department.”

Bell also has a positive attitude toward those the department serves.

At a meeting of chiefs last week, one voiced his 13 rules. The 13th rule is “be nice,” Bell said.

“It comes back many times over,” he added.

Once the public realized firefighters were at the station on weekdays, the requests have multiplied, he said. Whether for things like inspections or carbon monoxide questions, the phone rings, he said.

Recently, an elderly couple couldn’t get out of their home because snow came off the roof in front of the door. They needed to get out for a doctor’s appointment and called for help. The per diem workers went and shoveled it out.

“We work for the public,” he said. “We need to be nice to people.”

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