RICHMOND — Gardiner firefighters will continue to respond when their help is needed to fight fires in Richmond, despite recent heated words between municipal leaders when Richmond declined to contract with Gardiner for ambulance services.

Two weeks ago, Gardiner’s fire chief and its city manager told Richmond selectmen the city would have to reconsider whether to continue its mutual-aid agreement to help fight fires in Richmond if Richmond didn’t contract with Gardiner for ambulance services.

Richmond selectmen didn’t join Gardiner’s regional ambulance service, instead opting to continue the town’s relationship with a private company, North East Mobile Health Services, which has provided Richmond with ambulance service since Richmond switched from using Gardiner in 2008.

Gardiner City Manager Scott Morelli, Fire Chief Michael Minkowsky and Finance Director Denise Brown returned to Richmond on Wednesday night, this time accompanied by Mayor Thomas Harnett, to mend fences and reassure Richmond selectmen they want the mutual-aid agreement between the neighboring municipalities to continue. Gardiner firefighters will continue to help fight fires in Richmond, they said.

“Gardiner remains committed to help provide fire protection to the citizens of Richmond,” Morelli said. “We will continue to do so. We remain committed to you.”

Morelli said the point he was trying to make in suggesting two weeks ago that Gardiner might have to reconsider whether to continue its mutual aid agreement with Richmond, was that the city wouldn’t be able to continue to offer the same level of firefighting services it does now if it loses too many ambulance service contracts with surrounding towns.

Gardiner’s firefighters are also paramedics, and they staff the city’s ambulances.

Harnett said 80 percent of the funding for Gardiner’s full-time, professional Fire Department comes from ambulance and rescue service revenue. So, he said, if the city loses other towns as it has Richmond, it might have to scale back the  department.

However, that’s not something Gardiner is planning to do now, he said. The mutual-aid agreement between Gardiner and Richmond will remain, he said.

“I’m committed to maintaining those relationships and not losing them due to a single contract or a misunderstanding,” Harnett said. “Whatever you need from our Fire Department, you will get from our Fire Department. But it’s not fair for me to sit here and say that’s forever, because I don’t know what forever is going to look like.”

Richmond Selectman Peter Warner said he appreciated that the mutual-aid agreement with Gardiner will continue.

Chairman Clarence Cummins said the decision to switch to North East was prompted largely by the cost savings Richmond could get by switching, because North East did not charge the town fees for ambulance services provided in Richmond if the bill was not paid by the person who received the service. He, too, said he wanted the two neighboring municipalities to get along well.

“Like you people, our first responsibility is to our own citizens,” Cummins said. “Also like you, I’d like to keep a positive relationship with Gardiner. We should talk before we reach the crisis point.”

The Gardiner officials also expressed interest in looking for more ways the two communities can cooperate in the future, and in winning Richmond’s ambulance contract back when the town’s deal with North East expires in two years.

Gardiner officials were eager to get Richmond to rejoin the regional ambulance service because revenue 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.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647
[email protected]

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