LEWISTON — The City Council on Tuesday renewed the fire chief’s contract for three years as firefighters continued without a contract.

Nearly 60 firefighters and supporters packed the meeting to show solidarity for the department that has been working without a contract for almost two and a half years.

“Today marks 904 days that your firefighters have come to work without a contract,” union President Rick Cailler told the councilors. “These negotiations have had an impact on all of us, but it has not impacted the service we deliver each and every day.” 

Cailler asked Chief Paul LeClair to speak to the council about the lack of a contract, but LeClair did not.

Firefighter Peter Morrell spoke up, saying he isn’t in it for the money but because he loves his job. “I’m not looking to get rich, just looking for the fair and decent compensation we deserve,” he said. 

Issues with the proposed contract include pay, benefits and a refusal to hire more firefighters. 

Cailler quoted Deputy Administrator Phil Nadaeu’s Dec. 7 interview with WGME: “He proclaimed that our staffing is adequate.” Cailler said that they are simply understaffed.  

“Fire Department staffing has been reduced by over 37 percent since 1980,” Cailler said. 

Lewiston has 67 firefighters, with 64 active in the field. “We need at least 20 more,” he said.

“This will be the second contract for Chief LeClair while the firefighters he is the appointed leader of enter into their 30th month without any contract,” Cailler said.

Councilor Tim Lajoie, who works for the Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Department, has been on both sides of the argument.

“I know this is difficult,” he said. “I’ve worked with some of you for a long time, but I don’t know how this became the tone of the conversation. I don’t like to see the animosity between firefighters and the city.” 

Lajoie added, “It’s not an easy balance to make. We’re working to make everyone happy, and I don’t know how much longer that will take.”  

Lajoie wanted it to be clear that the city and the firefighters don’t need to be fighting against each other. “We support, appreciate and respect you,” he said.

In regard to the renewal of LeClair’s contract, Lajoie said, “We cannot move forward rudderless, so I am approving the chief’s contract. But you have been heard.” 

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