On Friday, March 27th I was given the opportunity to speak to Rangeley Fire & Rescue Chief Michael Bacon, Board of Selectmen Chairman Stephen Philbrick, Rangeley Chief of Police Russell French and Rangeley’s NorthStar EMS Base Supervisor and EMT Harold Schaetzle. Their united efforts to try and reach out to the public as much as possible to help in a tangible way as well as put the minds of our Rangeley residents at ease is very comforting, to say the least.

To be honest, I was originally worried there would be some difficulty in having a group conversation as I thought their attention might be divergent. In general, throughout the town, state, country and even the world for that matter, there is such a broad range of thoughts on how to deal with the current crisis. I was bound to be wary. However, it became clear at the onset that the four were completely of the one same and focused mind, and on the same ‘Mission Ready’ page. They have a clear idea and course of action in their current mission to efficiently attempt to ensure the safety of the Rangeley and surrounding area residents during this COVID-19 crisis. They have the resources they need to get the job done both now and with an eye toward the unpredictable future. They have been trained and have years of experience on how to deal with emergencies. In addition, they have something people from out of town do not. They have a real concern and understanding for area residents because they are strongly interwoven members of the community, with not only citizens but their very own family and friends that are truly counting on them. In times of need, just as in the past, they are all there, ready, willing and able to respond.

Rangeley Fire & Rescue Chief Michael Bacon, “I’ve received a lot of phone calls from concerned citizens. A lot of it I believe is coming from the more elderly population who don’t really have access to the internet. So a lot of the calls I’ve been fielding have been what should they be looking for, what should they be doing. Kind of what we’re seeing in the news media coming out of the CDC (Center for Disease Control) about washing, cleaning, self isolation, distancing.”

One of his concerns is the spreading of false information. “There has been a lot of rumors floating around the community.” In particular, Bacon mentioned the false rumor that the first reported case of COVID-19 recently reported in Franklin County was in Rangeley. “That is NOT the case. We do not have any cases that we are aware of in Rangeley or the surrounding area.”

From the beginning the Town has been fielding an assortment of calls. “The weekend after the president stated a national state of emergency we received 107 calls on the fire office phone. After that we received anywhere between 20 and 40 calls a day. There’s a lot of information flying around on the news networks, radio. Some of it may or may not be vetted yet. So we (at the Town Office) just really stick to the facts. We just religiously reference the CDC information. We don’t speculate on speculation.” For specific COVID-19 questions for example, Bacon said they encourage people to visit the maine.gov website where there is a link specifically regarding COVID-19. (https://www.maine.gov/governor/mills/covid-19) In addition, they created a flyer to be included with the free lunches that were given out at area locations starting on Friday, March 27th that had a list of contact numbers. The following are the numbers that were on that flyer.

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911 – For all emergency calls

211 – Available Resources

Fire Chief – 864-3800

Police Chief – 864-3187 or 670-5087

Dispatch – 778-6140 (non-emergency)

Steve Philbrick – 557-0743

Town Office 864-3326

WMCA (Western Maine Community Action) 645-3764

Meals on Wheels for Seniors – 800-427-1241

Wilton Career Center for Unemployment – (207) 645-5800

IGA Curbside pickup 9-4, 7 days a week – Call 864-5089 to order.  Please give the staff an hour to shop for you and call when you get to the parking lot.  They will load your groceries and ask that you please make payment at that time.

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In addition, I have to add that Oquossoc Grocery is also doing curbside pick up on Tuesdays and Fridays with orders that can be taken on Mondays and Thursdays (the day before) via email to [email protected] and Lakeside Convenience Store is doing phone-in curbside pick up and may be reached at 207 864-5888.

To be sure, the Town officials want to be sure everyone is getting everything they need while avoiding any redundancy. Steve Philbrick, “There are a number of agencies in place that have goods and services and financial capabilities to handle those folks that make themselves known to us as a group. What we are trying to do is to make sure that we don’t have a lot of other folks out there doing similar or same things and tapping resources that don’t need to be tapped yet. We’d like to utilize all of the federal, state and local municipal services first and then as this thing drags out, then we can tap into the non-profits and try not to deplete their endowment or deplete their finances.

He went on to state examples of how the Town could help act as an intermediary. “From the federal standpoint there have been a number of postings on Facebook that talk about how businesses can apply for a funding stream to help them through this period of time.” For example, mortgage reduction or if you have lost your job due to COVID-19. “There’s a state component that’s helping immediately get people on unemployment. We have the contact numbers for that. From a municipal standpoint there is Joanne Dickson who is part of the Rangeley Region Health organization (Rangeley Region Health & Wellness), who is working closely with the school and the town office to identify the folks that don’t want to be identified but are still in need of services. That’s just a broad stroke of what’s out there. If you need oil for your house, we have a program here in the town. There’s also one here in the county. We can point you in the right direction and should you not be successful in those, you can call Traci (Pitt-Lavoie) in the town office and we’ll cut you a check. We have money for that. I don’t know how long these funds will last but that’s what they’re there for.”

With regards to government agencies that have been created to help Bacon added, “The fire department is going to be working with FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and that will also include the Town. The biggest message for the community is this. If you are unsure, but you need help or assistance, call the Town. We will get you funneled to the right agency. We will make sure that you get where you need to go to get help. As you know, state agencies are overwhelmed and we are all here to help. We just need to be contacted. We need to be put in the loop for who needs the help. We are not overwhelmed. This is what we’re trained to do. We have procedures in place. We’ve brought on extra staff to make sure that we can be ready for the mission ahead. We are mission ready. We’re always going to be ready and we’re taking precautions to make sure that if this crisis is going to last longer than two weeks, we have procedures in place to last, and be mission ready throughout the whole time. We’re taking precautions. We have been planning since the start.”

Steve Philbrick offered some  good examples of why it is crucial the Town be notified when there is any volunteer effort that is well intentioned and self initiated as well as situations they are trying to avoid. “…why it’s important that we encourage everybody to call the Town or the fire chief or Harold (Schaetzle), or myself to initiate. If some volunteer who is trying to do the right thing, goes to somebody’s house and delivers something, and doesn’t recognize that they have come to the door with sweaters and parkas and hats on, they might think they’re just going out for a walk, while one of us would be thinkng their house is cold and we need to ask more questions. If an elderly couple comes to the door and has a hard time opening the door, we need to do a wellness check. Others may just not feel comfortable with trying to do something like that or have the experience to do it. So it’s important that these people are contacting the appropriate authorities to ensure that all of these nuances are being observed correctly and not just being passed off as ‘oh, they’re going out for a walk or grandpa just woke up’.”

Michael Bacon elaborated. “Once we went into a state of emergency both nationally and Governor Mills declared (Maine’s) state emergency, we enacted what’s called an Incident Command System (ICS) here. So we’re putting everybody within a chain of command. So that way the resources that are there for the community are easily available and we know everything that’s going on. So if we had somebody for example who was doing a good deed and feeding their neighbors and trying to do their part to help out, we don’t want services to be duplicated. We’re trying to manage the crisis. We have people in public works and local government that are all part of this ICS, (Incident Command System), so that way, we all know what’s going on, we’re all on the same page and we’re all able to act quickly to help somebody.”

Philbrick offered another possible and scary scenario. “God forbid this happens. Somebody comes up to their home from away and is here for a few days, becomes symptomatic and somebody who is NOT trained shows up at their doorstep to say hello. We may have a spread. If the right person had showed up to the door we wouldn’t have a spread, we’d have a containment. So that’s something that plays in our minds on every call, in every situation.”

Chief Bacon also wanted to be sure volunteers contacted the Town as well. “So, if we have citizens in the community that want to help, please reach out to the Town Office and we will find a way that you can help. So that way we know you’re out on the road, we know you’re out checking on your fellow neighbors. But let us have some type of accountability, so that we know you are out trying to help.”

Philbrick assured confidentiality, “When somebody calls in and they’re in need, it’s going to be handled confidentially.”

Bacon reiterated, “We’re here if people need the assistance. When somebody does come for assistance, it’s confidential. That’s both on the local and state level. If you look out in the community people are getting help every day.”

Philbrick spoke on behalf of the group, “Thank everybody for what they are currently doing. We applaud them as their municipal government and elected officials. We want to make sure they are safe and if they need any help from us, we’re here.”

I was happy to hear from Rangeley Police Chief Russell French that there were less incidents to report. French explained, “With less traffic, there’s less accidents on the roadway. So the normal day has just slowed down.” With less people on the street the town has been pretty quiet but the Chief assured me the police department will remain vigilant. French, “Calls for service have actually gone down during the last couple of weeks. In part that has been people staying at home, listening to what they are being told, keeping safe distances. Going forward we will be working out of our cruisers, patrolling more because we do have more businesses shut than usual. We’ll be performing more business checks, more house checks. We’re here also to assist the fire department and our medics.”

NorthStar Rangeley Base Supervisor and EMT Harold Schaetzle added that his team was confident in their preparedness even in these uncertain times, “Franklin Memorial Hospital and Maine Health have the resources to ramp up if the need in the community increases. We’re prepared for what the future may bring. It’s all part of the emergency operation center here at the Town Office. If we have to quarantine, we’ll cross that bridge. There are many options that can be done within the town, just like you’re hearing on the national and the local news.”

Regarding the Fire Department, Chief Bacon added, “We’re going to be bringing in a late afternoon to evening shift to man the phones and to be here for citizens if they have any questions.”

So there it is. Your Town has your back. Of course it does!

If you want to volunteer, feel free to call Traci Pitt-Lavoie at the Town Office 207 864-3326. She will take down some information from you and I have been assured someone will get back to you right away.


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