Living in Western Maine, where lakes and ponds are abundant, means there are plenty of private, camp and discontinued roads for firefighters to travel when every second counts.

How and when they respond depends on a number of factors, according to fire chiefs.

On Jan. 17, the Harrison Fire Department responded to a carbon monoxide detector alarm on Harrison Heights Road, a private road off Route 117. The road was plowed but minimally sanded, according to Town Manager George “Bud” Finch.

After the wheel blocks were removed, the truck slid down the steep hill, rounded a corner at the bottom and flipped into the woods. Driver Mo Kautz only had scratches, but the truck’s front chassis was totaled.

Finch said in an email that steep slopes cause issues on many private and public roads. Other factors are the age of the road and whether or not the road was built prior to the road construction ordinance adopted in 1992.

Part of this came from an era when municipalities plowed private roads, which they no longer can do,” Finch wrote. “There is also the issue of many roads, which can get into a legal snarl when it is challenged as to if the town road is a deeded road or a right of way road, where the town basically has maintained it for a period of years. I am not a legal adviser. I can only tell you from experience that it is a wide-open topic.”

In neighboring Norway, Fire Chief Dennis Yates said most of the town’s private roads are lined with camps. He said he doesn’t believe there is anything on the books governing the maintenance of private roads in town.

Town Manager David Holt confirmed it.

Say a place did burn and the fire marshal said, ‘How come you didn’t put it out?’ We would say we couldn’t get in,” Yates said, speaking about an unmaintained road.

Insurance companies would not be happy about such a situation, he said. He’s had insurance companies request letters confirming that a private road has been maintained.

Paris Fire Chief Brad Frost said, “There are a few private roads (in town) and they are not kept up,” Frost said, noting it’s worse in the winter.

“We have a few even right now it’s hard to get through. They’re narrow, bumpy,” he said. “If I think I can’t get through, I am not putting the men in there.”

He said he wasn’t aware of any town ordinances requiring Paris homeowners or residents to maintain private roads.

Interim Town Manager Sawin Millett wrote in an email that he was “not aware of any provision that specifies how roads in a private subdivision must be maintained, plowed and/or sanded.”

They choose to live there, I guess,” Frost said.

Oxford Fire Chief Wayne Jones said his crew responds to fires and emergencies on private roads.

We have a number of them, as you can imagine, with the lakes and stuff,” he said. “Not all of them are plowed in the wintertime.”

West Paris Fire Chief Norm St. Pierre said he ensures private roads are sanded before he sends his crew in.

We have a lot of roads that are real icy — they’re not town-maintained roads,” he said. “We will not travel down them until we can get a sand truck up there. We don’t even take a chance. … There is no way to stop, even if there’s brakes. We’ve all been there with our cars.”

St. Pierre acknowledged that waiting for the sand truck does delay response time, but the Public Works crew can usually get to a scene “pretty quickly.”

In neighboring Otisfield, Fire Chief Kyle Jordan deals with two homeowners associations in town, which govern their respective private roads.

Recently, a fire hydrant payment issue arose with the Silvaqua Homeowners Association in Otisfield. The association and town have had an informal agreement where the association shared the initial installation costs of the hydrant and plowed the road for emergency vehicles, according to Sun Media archives.

The hydrant protects all homes in the development and a few other homes outside of it, according to the association.

I really have no further comment regarding the issue to which you are referring, other than I will continue to work with private property owners to provide the best protection and services possible,” Jordan wrote in an email.

In Hartford, most of these issues stem from abandoned and discontinued roads, instead of strictly private roads, Board of Selectmen Chairwoman Lee Holman said. Maintenance of such roads is exactly what the town’s Road Committee and selectmen are grappling with as they continue work to update the road standards ordinance from 1988.

Our real concern at this time is to protect the taxpaying public from people moving to an abandoned or discontinued road and expecting the town to pick it up for them,” Holman said.

The town recently put roughly $30,000 into Gurney Hill Road, she said.

We kind of got burned but the people who begged and pleaded (for the road work) … put (their house) on the market in a short time,” Holman said. “The town got taken for a ride.”

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