RICHMOND — Gardiner’s fire chief and city manager told Richmond selectmen this week that Gardiner will have to reconsider whether to continue its mutual aid agreement to help fight fires in Richmond if Gardiner is not chosen to provide ambulance services.

Selectmen said they felt Gardiner officials were trying to strong-arm them and instead voted unanimously to stay with North East Mobile Health Services, the private firm which has provided ambulance service to Richmond since town officials switched from Gardiner in 2008.

“We would have to reconsider our mutual aid agreement with Richmond” if the town doesn’t join the other surrounding communities which use Gardiner Ambulance, Gardiner Fire Chief Michael Minkowsky told selectmen at a heated meeting in Richmond on Thursday. “We have a responsibility to our taxpayers. We’d have to look at it.”

Minkowsky and City Manager Scott Morelli said Gardiner’s ambulance service provides revenue and staff that allow the city’s paramedics to also serve as full-time professional firefighters. So with Richmond not joining in the ambulance service, Gardiner may rethink whether it will continue the long-standing mutual aid agreement by which firefighters from either Gardiner or Richmond can call for help from the other, neighboring department at fire scenes in either of those municipalities.

Gardiner has a full-time fire department while Richmond’s is a volunteer force. Gardiner also has a ladder truck — which firefighters parked prominently in front of the Richmond Town Office for Thursday’s meeting — an expensive piece of equipment not in Richmond’s firefighting vehicle arsenal, and uncommon in smaller municipalities.

Richmond selectmen, who voted last May to award a three-year contract to North East pending the details of the contract being worked out by officials on both sides, voted to sign that contract. They said they looked at it as honoring a deal they’d already agreed to, and said they can reconsider which ambulance service to choose, North East or Gardiner, when the contract is up in two years.

Gardiner officials’ warning that spurning Gardiner Ambulance could also mean Gardiner firetrucks won’t respond if Richmond needs help did not sit well with Richmond selectmen.

“I feel like we’re being strong-armed,” said Selectman Tracy Tuttle.

Tuttle added, after the Gardiner officials left, that she hoped Gardiner firefighters would still respond if their help is needed in Richmond.

Gardiner officials were eager to get Richmond to rejoin the regional ambulance service because revenues from fees collected for providing ambulance service in Richmond would help spread the cost of the service, lowering the cost for other municipalities that also use the service, including Litchfield, West Gardiner, Farmingdale, Randolph and Pittston.

“By partnering with your fellow communities, they’ll also be saving upwards of $100,000,” said Denise Brown, Gardiner’s finance director. “I think that is important. I think we need to help support each other.”

Minkowsky and Kevin McGinnis, chief of North East, both offered reasons why their service was the better choice for Richmond.

North East serves Richmond with ambulances based in Topsham and Dresden.

Clarence Cummins, chairman of the selectmen, said he concluded that either North East or Gardiner would provide satisfactory service and response times to incidents in Richmond.

“I think we need to honor the current contract with North East,” Cummins said. “When the time comes for renewal, we’ll look at it again.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.