CHINA — In an effort to modernize and attract new volunteer firefighters, the China Village Fire Department is considering building a fire station and maybe becoming a town department.

Fire Chief Tim Theriault on Tuesday said the department has started preliminary talks about a new station house.

“We are just in the exploratory stages right now,” he said.

The department’s station at 30 Causeway Road at the north end of China Lake was built in 1943, Theriault said. While the department has enough space to hold the department’s vehicles and equipment, it needs maintenance, such as a new septic system.

“We don’t want to dump a lot of money into it” if the department has a chance to build a new station, Theriault said.

Carl Farris, the owner of Lakeview Lumber on U.S. Route 202, has offered to donate land on the route to the department, and a lot adjacent to the property is for sale, which could provide a driveway for the prospective station.

Building a fire station could build visibility for the department and spark interest in younger people to join the all-volunteer fire crew, Theriault said.

China Village Fire Department has about 20 firefighters on the books, but only about a dozen active members and only four volunteers under the age of 50, Theriault said.

“I need firefighters. I need young guys that want to help,” he said.

China’s department, like many other volunteer fire departments in rural Maine, is facing a membership crisis as aging firefighters drop off the rolls without young volunteers to fill the gaps.

Theriault went to the selectmen last month to discuss the department’s plans and gauge interest in helping the department with financing a new building.

China has three fire departments that operate independently from the town government — China Village, South China and Weeks Mills. The departments get annual operating budgets from the town, but they have to raise money to buy equipment and vehicles.

Now, with a new building possibly on the horizon, Theriault said the volunteer organization is considering all options, including becoming a formal town department.

“That’s on the table right now. We haven’t decided what direction we’re going to go in,” Theriault said.

According to minutes of the Oct. 19 selectmen’s meeting, Theriault gave a preliminary estimate of $500,000 for a new station, and the board voted unanimously to support and express interest in pursuing the concept of a comprehensive fire and rescue department.

“We would entertain the thought of being part of the town if the town was willing to participate,” Theriault said.

The town’s three fire departments have considered merging, but the size and geography of the town makes it almost impossible to find a single location that would provide good response times for the entire town.

“There’s no good central fire department that would work for our town. That’s the sad thing,” Theriault said.

“Rationalization is a nice thought, but if you can’t get there from here, it doesn’t help,” he said.

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire

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