READFIELD — Evidence of his community’s support and caring surrounds Fire Chief Lee Mank as he stands inside the fire station on Main Street.
Tucked away between two trucks near the back of the garage is an aluminum rescue boat bought with donations, much of which came in honor of a teenage girl, Paige Sawtelle, upon her death from health complications in 2008. Nearby is the pumper truck outfitted last year with a foam system. That device, too, was a gift from residents.
The most recent, and perhaps most dazzling, piece of equipment takes up the better part of its own bay. The Arctic Cat Prowler side-by-side utility task vehicle will allow the department to reach deep woods calls faster and more prepared than ever before. The new vehicle, like the boat and the foam maker, was funded entirely by donations from residents.
“I think it’s amazing that citizens donate above and beyond,” Mank said.
Whether picking up an injured hiker or fighting a wildfire, the Prowler, which is has a light bar, radio and winch, will allow firefighters access they’ve never had before. The four-wheel-drive machine’s open body will be outfitted with a 55-gallon tank and a pump to help fight fires in remote areas and equipped with a backboard attachment that will allow crews to safely and quickly carry people out of the woods.
“The primary responsibility will be wildfires,” Mank said.
Lettering on the Prowler’s body announces the $13,500 machine was “Donated by Community Support.” That support was in response to letters the Readfield Fire Association sent out last year seeking donations for the vehicle. Mank said about 1,200 donations came in, which is just shy of half of the town’s 2,600 residents.
“We get a very good response,” Mank said. “It’s above and beyond.”
The association in February sent out letters for a $9,000 trailer to house the vehicle as well as water rescue and wildfire equipment. Mank said the trailer would only create sheltered storage for the equipment outside the fire station, but allow firefighters to get that equipment to the scene faster.
Mank said the department does not take the community’s generosity for granted.
“It’s definitely appreciated,” Mank said. “We hope we don’t have to use (the UTV), but if we do it’s a good thing to have.”
The visible equipment, like the utility task vehicle and the rescue boat, proudly announce the community’s support. In the case of the boat, that announcement comes in the form of a sign on back bearing the boat’s name, The Paige Sawtelle.
“That was one of her favorite things,” Mank said, “to go out on a boat.”
Craig Crosby — 621-5642 [email protected]