HALLOWELL — The City Council wants to begin a comprehensive review of fire protection by hiring a Camden consultant — a move that’s dredged up apprehension and anger within the city’s fire department.

The City Council unanimously approved a measure Monday allowing City Manager Michael Starn to negotiate a contract with Camden-based fire consultant Neil Courtney.

Courtney will be charged with evaluating the city’s fire response from top to bottom — looking at the fiscal and safety impacts for a gamut of possible solutions, from building a new building to not having one at all, City Councilor Steven Vellani said.

Vellani estimated the cost of Courtney’s services at anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000 and said Courtney could start immediately.

Vellani added the agenda item concerning Courtney’s potential contract in the absence of Councilor Edmund Cervone, chairman of the council’s Protection Committee.

Fire Chief Mike Grant said he welcomed the study, but expressed concern that Courtney could recommend services be contracted out.

“Hopefully, he’ll come down and say the way we’re doing business is the best way,” he said. “It could be very good for the Fire Department — or detrimental.”

Lt. Jeff Thompson lambasted the council’s decision, saying he wished firefighters were notified the issue would be discussed.

It was added to the agenda by Vellani at the meeting’s outset and did not appear on the advance agenda.

Thompson said it is emblematic of “back-and-forth politics” he says the city has employed for years on the issue.

“We put up more and more money for studies and we could have had a new fire station or rehabbed our old one,” he said. “I feel it’s another slap in the face to our volunteers.”

But Grant said, “I don’t think it’s a slap in the face, because it could be positive.”

In May, members of the Hallowell Fire Department complained city officials were making no progress toward upgrading the Hallowell Fire Department building on Second Street — a building dating back to the 1820s, parts of which have asbestos or are in general disrepair.

At the meeting, Vellani recognized and identified with firefighters’ previous concerns, saying the issue has reached “an emotional pitch.”

“We feel we need to have an objective observer because we know what our city has done — we go back and forth,” he said.

Courtney’s reports usually take three to six months to complete, Vellani said.

Mayor Charlotte Warren, who didn’t attend Monday’s meeting of the City Council, set a September deadline for a decision on what the city will do to enhance its fire protection facilities.

“It doesn’t appear that time frame will be adhered to,” Vellani said Monday.

Added Grant: “In all sincerity, she thought she’d be able to come up with something and reality said, ‘You can’t.’ “

Councilor Peter Schumacher, also a volunteer fireman, said he voted for the measure to ensure the city gets the best result from any decision on fire protection.

“The motivation was that the city council simply needs more answers and information before making our final decision,” he said.

Warren did not return calls to her office and cell phones Tuesday.

Michael Shepherd — 621-5662

[email protected]


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