REGION — Farmington and Wilton have entered a five-year Public Works Mutual Aid Agreement, approved by the towns’ select boards, that will cover court liabilities in the case of shared Public Works resources in times of emergency.

Farmington Public Works Director Philip Hutchins said that he recognized the need for such an agreement after several emergencies, the 2019 LEAP explosion and a recent case of COVID-19 revealed the potential to either immobilize or strain municipal personnel.

“After speaking to many directors across the state of Maine, it seemed to have sparked many concerns which is having a COVID outbreak in-house during winter storms,” Hutchins wrote in an email. “One positive case could potentially immobilize our department’s staff, part-time spare drivers couldn’t even begin to cover our territory; forget about the snow removal, sidewalks and responding.”

During this winter’s first major snowstorm on Dec. 5, the Farmington Public Works encountered a positive COVID-19 case among its staff which resulted in the remaining nine employees identified as close contacts.

“We all had to go in for COVID testing ourselves,” Hutchins said during a phone interview. “At that point, it was volunteers to tackle the storm itself…we were trickling in as we got results back.” 

The Mutual Aid Agreement provides official assistance between the two towns in scenarios such as the Dec. 5 snowstorm.

“We would’ve helped if it was really bad and they had no drivers,” Wilton Public Works Director John Masse said during a phone interview. 

Hutchins described the fragility of the public works department during the coronavirus pandemic coupled with winter storms.

“Worst case scenario with public works winter vs. COVID, nobody will be able to get to work, school transportation and first responders will be delayed and possibly unable to travel, all transportation will be affected in some way including the public’s essential needs,” Hutchins wrote in an email. “During the first executive order, the amount of traffic was reduced, but if this scenario was to happen to public works during a large snow event…potentially zero traffic.”

The two towns’ public works departments already share resources such as equipment, salt and other materials, according to Masse. The agreement details personnel assistance that the towns will provide each other in emergency circumstances by outlining three scopes of aid:

1. To assist and aid in an emergency event due to a need for additional manpower.
2. To cooperate and coordinate activities related to responding to an emergency event.
3. To assist and aid in all operational functions to help protect the public safety of citizens and to help prevent loss or destruction of public infrastructure or property.

Hutchins said that the agreement was modeled after fire department mutual aid agreements and that he anticipates more public works departments throughout the state will follow suit.

“This is one of the first Public Works mutual aid agreements in Maine, and others are currently pursuing this topic during this pandemic we are facing,” Hutchins wrote.

By capping the agreement at five years, the two towns will be able to asses emergencies that took place and how the agreement can be revised for future scenarios.

“The importance of public works operations can be seldom recognized, and this is behind-the-scenes operational planning that plays a big role to everyone,” Hutchins wrote. “I feel that planning for these circumstances is a must rather than facing an event head-on.”

 

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