Walker built his fire department, now needs funding

WALDO – As many cities struggle to staff their volunteer fire departments, Waldo’s (pop. 795) has 13 men and women ready to serve when needed to fight fires, help on the scenes of vehicle accidents or deal with other emergencies. That number is up from just three firefighters this time last year.

When Brian Walker was elected fire chief at the 2021 town hall, outgoing chief Bob Cartier became his deputy. Along with Deputy Chief Jake Hepner, who had resigned when Cartier became Chief, they made up the entire Waldo Volunteer Fire Department.

Why musical chairs? “It’s overwhelming drudgery,” Walker told the Republican Journal, comparing the job to that of Sisyphus being condemned by Zeus to push a boulder up a hill over and over again. “They have had their day; Now it’s my turn.”

The leader decided to try something new to attract volunteers. He contacted former members of the department and told them, “We’re going to have a new culture.

“In EMS, they call it a ‘just’ culture,” he explained. “You plan to build the system so that everyone has a better experience.” He outlined his plans, promised training, said they would have meetings twice a month, “and they signed on.”

Two other men had previously visited the department but decided they were not interested. He persuaded them to take another look and they joined. “Along with a few others, I became a thorn. … Eventually, with a bit of perseverance and tenacity, they arrived.

Spouses followed. “My wife is a good example,” he said. “I said, ‘I need your help,’ and she joined. Then the wives of the other members came on board.

Getting new gear “also made a big difference,” Walker said. “People want to take their work seriously and have an impact on the community. He applied for and was awarded two grants that covered most of five new sets of personal protective equipment. “We had to buy boots and gloves,” he said.

“Put in time and effort, say I’m going to get things done, and then go out and achieve it – people wanted to support that.” His team has done it in more or less ways — from answering 80% of their calls, a significantly higher percentage than many departments can boast — to purposely mowing the grass around the fire station so that the city ​​does not have to pay for it.

Budgetary requirements for 2022-23

Although Walker has researched and applied for various grants for his department, many of them require a contribution from the city, which can be a sticking point. The Select Board must juggle other city grant requests, including high-speed internet for all residents.

Walker waived his $2,000 stipend for the 2021-22 fiscal year, but paid Cartier and Hepner $300 each for their 21-22 volunteer efforts. His claim for ministerial compensation for the following year amounts to $9,000. Other municipalities are now paying or considering paying their volunteers, and Walker’s 2022-23 budget proposal calls for reinstating his stipend and paying all department volunteers, payable at $20 an hour up to a cap $600 per person per year. This would not only cover their time, but also their essence, he said.

Underfunded for years according to Walker ($11,000, including the chief’s salary, last year), the fire department must establish a regular schedule of maintenance and equipment replacement to ensure safety of its firefighters and their ability to do their job, he said. . To this end, for the coming year, the Chief has requested approximately $18,000 for equipment, maintenance and operations, which includes:

  • $1,000 for fuel.
  • $5,823.60 for testing and maintenance of equipment in accordance with generally accepted (and in some states mandatory) practices established by the National Fire Protection Association for safety.
  • $3,000 to replace a non-functional light bar on a fire truck that won’t pass inspection without it.
  • $2,700 for a set of response equipment for a firefighter (a female firefighter has no equipment).
  • $2,256 for a new 600-foot 1-3/4-inch hose (NFPA says hoses should be replaced every 10 years; some from Waldo date back to the 1970s).
  • $1,060 for two amplified pagers and pager bases (for Cartier and Hepner).
  • $390 for six fireman’s flashlights.
  • $1,339.17 for other equipment and supplies.

On the floor inside the Waldo Fire Station is a 33-pounder’s yellow backpack and tank. 1997 Self-contained breathing apparatus unit that attaches to the firefighter’s back. On the chair is one of 10 2002 units with a lightweight (23.8 lb) composite cylinder donated in January to the Waldo Volunteer Fire Department from another Maine department that was being upgraded. Newer units have built-in safety features, like PASS alarm and buddy’s breath. Photo by Carolyn Zachary

Possible funding source: a cost recovery program

To help fund the department’s needs, Walker pressed the Select Board to establish a Fire and Rescue Cost Recovery Program that would bill home and auto insurance companies for fire and emergency response. in the event of a vehicle accident, structural fire and other dangerous occurrences. He said the Searsport, Freedom, Thorndike, Frankfort and West Frankfort fire departments, among others in Maine, had such programs in place, and he wrote an order for cost recovery to Waldo.

Board chair Kathy Littlefield forwarded the draft order to attorney Bill Kelley for review. At the March 7 restricted board meeting, Littlefield reported that Kelley said the order “was basically written OK,” but was uncomfortable with the lack of specificity in one section. He recommended the city consider replacing that section with more specific language adopted by the City of Cornish in its ordinance, she said, and added that she would obtain a copy of that document.

During this time, Walker attended several board meetings to discuss funding for the fire department. The council recently met with a representative from the Municipal Association of Maine and was told yes, they could spend the city’s American Recovery Program Act funds for municipal needs, with some caveats. (The council had planned to direct most of that money to broadband.)

At the March 7 board meeting, Littlefield said the board had not made a decision yet, but would meet with Walker for further discussions.

Walker was not present on February 21 when the select committee last considered the budget proposals. In response to some Fire Department cuts suggested by Shirley Caler, Tom Wagner said, “You have a dedicated guy doing his best. Give him the tools he needs to work.

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