FARMINGTON — About 80 firefighters, town managers and selectmen from greater Franklin County met Wednesday to talk about the challenges and opportunities of providing fire protection.

Most towns in the county, along with Livermore and Livermore Falls, were represented at the session at Franklin Memorial Hospital.

Facilitator Bill Guindon, director of Maine Fire Service Institute, asked them to list the challenges, strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities they face.

“Look at ways you can collaborate,” he said. “Throw out the word regionalization. A proactive approach is to go after consolidation and merger.”

He suggested they start with 3 “c” words: collaboration, cooperation and communication.

After regionalization of schools and jails, many are hesitant to consider regionalization of fire departments, one firefighter said.

One cooperative venture could involve a joint purchase of equipment.

When Farmington Town Manager Richard Davis asked how many departments needed to buy self-contained breathing apparatus, like Farmington does, several raised their hands.

The air packs used by firefighters to enter a building have a limited life and are quite expensive, Davis said after the meeting.

“Farmington will need to replace 20 of these next year at a cost of over $100,000, plus another $100,000 for 20 spare air bottles,” he said.  “If other departments need to replace theirs, I thought it might present an opportunity for bulk purchasing.”

Firefighters quickly tallied more than 30 items.

Outdated equipment, a lack of volunteerism, the amount of training and territorialism were among other challenges named.

Some of the strengths of departments listed were mutual aid, the County Firemen’s Association, dedication and a willingness to help other departments.

Money, aging personnel, distance from town to town, a lack of consistent water supply, dead spots in communication and response times were among the weaknesses mentioned.

Along with purchasing equipment together, firefighters and town officials saw opportunities for a more proactive approach through long-term planning. Other opportunities included increasing resources, grants, shared responsibilities and community meetings like Wednesday’s.

The list of potential threats to fire protection included the inability to recruit firefighters, the loss of volunteers due to the amount of training needed, fear of doing something different, not admitting there is a problem, the economy and more drug users’ meth labs.

Well maintained firetrucks mask the fact some are 30 years old and out of date and make the public hesitant to purchase new equipment, another firefighter said.

Even the way buildings are constructed poses a threat. Materials used in the past gave firefighters about 20 minutes to get to a fire before flames were showing, Guindon said. New products, many petroleum-based, burn quicker. That 20 minutes is now three to four minutes, he said.

Guindon recommended each department review the responses, analyze and prioritize their needs, look for the common ground before the next meeting.

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