Firefighters spent nine hours battling a fire in 90 degree Fahrenheit weather in a materials shed at Lignetics of Maine, a sawdust processing facility in Strong Thursday, July 21. Containing and trying to extinguish the fire was a community effort with help from 10 other local fire departments under the Franklin County Fire Association’s mutual-aid call program. Without the mutual aid, Strong Fire Chief Duane Boyd said his department would not have been able to put out the fire. Pictured, a Strong Fire Department tanker at right supplies water to a firefighter atop the Farmington Fire Rescue Department’s aerial ladder with a Wilton fire engine in the foreground. Kay Neufeld/Franklin Journal

STRONG — A fire broke out in a materials shed at Lignetics of Maine, a sawdust processing facility, in Strong on Thursday, July 21.

Strong Fire Department Chief Duane Boyd said the fire broke out in Lignetic’s open sawdust shed at 30 Norton Hill Rd. around 1:30 p.m. due to sparks from the smokestack in the mill. It was quickly contained without any injuries, he reported.

However, the conditions of the fire presented a difficulty for the Strong Fire Department, Lignetics and other area fire departments that answered the call.

The fire was burning within the sawdust heap, meaning firefighters had to continuously dig within the piles to find areas still smoldering.

In total, Boyd said they used around 250,000 gallons of water trying to extinguish the fire until the crews left at about 10:30 p.m. Thursday night.

While the firefighters were able to leave the fire in Lignetics’ hands Thursday night, the processing facility was not able to fully extinguish the smoldering until Wednesday, July 27, Boyd said.


The nearly nine-hour long battle against the fire highlighted an important tool for the Strong Fire Department and the whole of Franklin County: mutual aid.

Mutual aid is defined as “a voluntary reciprocal exchange of resources and services for mutual benefit,” often within communities to help one another meet their needs.

Boyd and the Strong Fire Department had the assistance of 10 different regional departments throughout the day, Boyd said.

Those towns included Farmington, Phillips, Kingfield, Salem, New Vineyard, New Portland, Temple, Wilton, New Sharon and Rangeley.

“It’s the most mutual aid we’ve had on a single fire in a while,” Boyd said. “Without that mutual aid I don’t know where that fire would have been.”

The fire was quickly contained, but it was an exhausting, time-consuming effort to keep under control on a 90 degree Fahrenheit day.


The various towns provided more manpower to “help relieve people” as well as equipment that Strong’s fire department did not have, such as Farmington’s aerial ladder.

These provisions are part of the automatic mutual aid program through the Franklin County Fire Association. The association, with the assistance of Franklin County Emergency Management Agency, started the program in 2010, according to Franklin County Emergency Management Agency Director Tim Hardy, who is also the deputy fire chief in Farmington.

The program created “run cards” for an automatic system where dispatchers can call on different fire departments for assistance depending on the severity of the fire and the needs of the town’s local department.

Each fire department has their own run cards for specific districts in the town. The cards mark the nearby fire departments a dispatcher will automatically call on for assistance depending on the alarm levels and needed apparatuses.

For example, the Lignetics fire began in the town’s South Hydrant District as a 2nd Alarm (Structure Fire), meaning at the same time the Strong Fire Department was called, so were the fire departments in Phillips, Farmington, New Vineyard and Wilton.

Those towns were there to provide additional resources such as engines, towers/ladders, and – in this instance, most importantly – manpower.


The various towns have different configurations of these resources/equipment. Farmington has engines and a tower, but no tanker, while Strong has its own tanker but no tower/ladder.

Mutual aid came to the rescue for a fire at Lignetics of Maine, a sawdust processing facility in Strong on Thursday, July 21. Franklin County Emergency Management Services Director Tim Hardy, pictured, said that mutual aid, where fire departments from different towns lend their manpower and equipment when called to do so, is key to protecting the communities of Franklin County. Hardy was at Lignetics, where firefighters spent nine hours trying to extinguish a fire in a sawdust heap, as Farmington’s deputy fire chief. Farmington was one of ten other towns that answered the call to assist the Strong Fire Department with extinguishing the challenging fire in 90 degree Fahrenheit weather. Kay Neufeld/Franklin Journal

Director Tim Hardy said that the automatic call system “simplifies the process” of requesting mutual aid and “saves time.” Previously, a fire chief would have to make separate mutual-aid requests from towns for their specific resources upon arriving at the scene and assessing the fire.

While the automatic call system launched in 2010, Tim Hardy said the local fire departments have been relying on mutual aid for a long time.

The concept of mutual aid has been utilized as a way to fill the gaps left by a shortage of firefighters in Maine and across the country.

Vanessa Paolella reported for the Maine Monitor in 2021 that “Firefighting personnel across the state say fire departments are struggling to recruit and retain career, per diem and volunteer firefighters, leaving the dwindling numbers to handle a growing number of calls.”

This, according to the Maine Monitor, reflects a nationwide trend of waning career and volunteer firefighters.


However, “[Maine] doesn’t track the number of active firefighters, nor does the Maine Fire Institute,” and “without reliable data, the true severity of the shortage is anyone’s guess.”

Farmington Fire Rescue Chief T.D. Hardy, who has been with the department in various capacities for 25 years, said that the town has seen this same trend.

Whereas Farmington’s Fire Rescue Department used to have 20 active members, there are now just 10 as longtime firefighters have retired with no one to replace them, Chief Hardy said.

He attributed that shortage to the nature of “today’s society,” where people don’t have the ability to “provide that type of a commitment for both the training and being available for calls.”

Director Tim Hardy, the chief’s father, said the requirements of being a part-time or volunteer firefighter include routine mandated trainings and the ability to answer day-time calls.

These standards are “very time consuming” and “difficult to maintain” for people present day supporting their families by working two to three jobs, Director Hardy said.


In the face of these shortages, Chief Hardy said “it takes a whole mix to make things work and takes multiple towns to handle the incidents that years ago one department used to.”

That mix includes mutual aid, which Chief Hardy said is “key” to fighting the majority of building fires in Farmington.

Chief Hardy said he can’t pinpoint a specific moment when mutual aid was most impactful because it’s impactful at every fire.

Chief Boyd noted sometimes it “might seem like you go to another town more often.”

Nevertheless, “it always comes around,” Boyd said, pointing to the fire at Lignetics as a moment where mutual aid saved the day in such intense weather.

“Just a small town like we are, [Strong’s fire department] never could have taken care of a fire like that by ourselves,” Boyd said. “Mutual aid is everything.”

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