FARMINGTON — A public informational meeting has been set on the town’s firefighter shortage that officials hope will help the public understand the Fire and Rescue Department’s budget request for full-time firefighters.

The Board of Selectmen on Tuesday night set the meeting for 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 16, at the Community Center.

Fire Chief Terry Bell approached Town Manager Richard Davis about holding the meeting to help inform the public about the Fire and Rescue Department budget, which is one of the most complex articles residents will vote on at the March 28 Town Meeting.

Bell, Davis and the selectmen Tuesday night said holding an informational meeting will help residents understand the problems the department has been facing.

“I live it. (Staffing) is very complex,” Bell said. “I think the more people understand, the better it will be.”

Last month, selectmen denied a requested increase to the 2016 fire and rescue budget that would pay for four full-time firefighters/EMTs to help make up for the department’s declining volunteer roster.

Bell recommended a budget of $434,492, an increase of $32,979 over the 2015 status quo budget that selectmen recommended.

The Budget Committee recommended accepting Bell’s proposal as their final recommendation.

At the Town Meeting, residents will have the final say on whether to accept Bell’s proposal or the selectmen’s recommendation when they vote on the budget.

When review of the 2016 budget began last month, Bell told selectmen that the department needs to hire full-time firefighters to help guarantee that the department could respond to increasing fire calls with enough qualified firefighters.

The department now is staffed with 25 firefighters, made up of call and per diem firefighters. Per diem firefighters work alternating eight-hour shifts with varying availability because most work other jobs. They also have varying levels of training, and that limits what some can do when responding to a fire call, Bell said.

The department has put out advertisements to recruit firefighters, but they have been to no avail, Bell said.

“I just don’t know what else to do,” Bell said at a Jan. 12 selectmen’s meeting. “People are just not coming through the door to join.”

Selectman Matthew Smith said Tuesday that it’s a community problem. “I don’t see it as just (Bell’s) problem, not anymore,” he said. “I hope we get a lot of people.”

Farmington isn’t alone as it struggles to staff its volunteer department. Fire chiefs across Maine have said that increasing obligations and other problems make it hard to find committed and able volunteers.

In other business Tuesday night, selectmen approved Philip C. Hutchins as public works director. Hutchins will take over the position from Denis Castonguay, who has held the post for the past 10 years. Castonguay was set to retire Dec. 7, but he agreed to postpone his retirement until April after the town had a hard time finding a qualified replacement.

Hutchins, of Jay, has an extensive construction background, Davis said. He earned an associate degree in mechanical technology from Washington County Technical College, now known as Washington County Community College. He has worked as a supervisor for E.L. Vining and Sons, as well as working for construction companies in southern Maine.

Hutchins said he is excited to be back in the Farmington area. His start date is March 14, with Castonguay’s last day falling on April 1. The two-week period of overlap will give Hutchins time to get an understanding of the department from Castonguay.

Lauren Abbate — 861-9252

[email protected]

Twitter: @Lauren_M_Abbate

 


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