Members of the fire department help put out a fire on Horseshoe Island in Greenwood. Courtesy of the Bethel Fire Department.

BETHEL — Responding to fires is only a small part of what the Bethel Fire Department does over the course of year.

Chief Mike Jodrey, who joined the department in 1986, said when he first started 80 percent of the calls were fire-related. They got  75-80 calls a year back then. Now, roughly a dozen of the departments 125-140 calls a year are fires.

“We’re responding to more and more car accidents because so many people are distracted,” said Jodrey, who has been fire chief since 2007.

The bulk of the calls they receive are car accidents, many of which happen on Route 2 and 26, two of the busiest roads in the state, according to Jodrey.

With still five months to go in their cycle, Jodrey said the department has already had more than 110 calls this year, a pace that if continued, would eclipse their usual average amount per year.

The department responds to structure and forest fires, motor vehicle crashes, accidents in the woods, and incidents on the Androscoggin River, where activity has increased in recent years.

Less frequent calls involve trips to the airport and railroad. Jodrey said in the past 30 years Bethel Fire has responded to roughly a dozen aircraft incidents, several involving fatalities.

Bethel Fire also responded to a train derailment in Gilead 10-15 years ago, but fortunately, all of the tank cars were empty.

Jodrey said the station is responsible for any incident that occurs on the railroad. He said that over the past year between 25-30 different chemicals were transported through Bethel by train, along with 3,000 railroad cars transporting propane. With travel occurring mostly at night, not many people are aware of what is going on, Jodrey said.

Having a section of the Appalachian Trail near town leads to some responses in the Grafton Notch area also. The department responds to injuries on the trail at least once a year, and sometimes the number is higher. When staff performs a carryout of an injured hiker on Appalachian Trail, it takes between 12-20 people to do the job effectively. The department does receive help from Mahoosuc Mountain Rescue. When performing mountain rescues, the department has help from people in the forest service’s short haul program.  EMT’s are dropped into the emergency scene on a 150-foot rope from a helicopter.

Jodrey said staff receives a lot of their training at the department’s  meetings on Thursdays, where they practice rescue procedures relating to many different situations. On nights when they don’t do hands-on training, members spend time in the classroom or organizing gear and cleaning trucks.

Lately, members have had to put their training to use in some less than ideal situations. The first was on Feb. 10 when the department’s Rapid Intervention Team (RIT) aided other area fire departments in combating a blaze that destroyed three buildings in Rumford and displaced 14 people. The purpose of a RIT is to have 4-6 members on standby at the scene to go in and rescue other firefighters, if needed.

Last Friday,  the department worked in subzero temperatures with Bethel Rescue, Gilead first responders, the U.S. Forest Service and the Maine Wardens Service on a snowmobile fatality in Evans Notch. The victim was the sixteenth person to be transported in the departments rescue toboggan since they acquired it.

With an all volunteer staff, if someone calls in an emergency members get an alert on their pagers and the department is dispatched through Oxford County. Members then report to the station (unless the emergency is happening on that member’s drive to the station), get their gear on and head to the scene.

All members available usually respond to the call. Jodrey said turnout for incidents is usually pretty strong. The department currently has 27 members and the maximum amount they can have is 36. There is a mix of younger and older members currently, but with a few people nearing retirement, Jodrey said that the department is looking for people to join.

The department has an official business meeting the first Thursday of each month, which starts around 6 p.m. Jodrey said the department tries to meet every Thursday of the month, so they can continue to work on training.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: