WINTHROP — As the chief of the local Fire Department, Dan Brooks knows a thing or two about fire codes. He knows, for instance, that the 69-year-old building that now houses his fire department is in violation of several of them.

That’s just one of the reasons he gives when asked why the town should support the construction of a new fire station on U.S. Route 202 on land it purchased several years ago. Other reasons include the current station’s age, cramped conditions, limited parking, inconvenient location and inability to support the weight of a new truck that his department is hoping to buy.

“It’s a cumulative effect,” Brooks said during a recent tour of the Main Street station, after giving a laundry list of its shortcomings.

As part of the Town Council budget process set to begin later this month, Town Manager Peter Nielsen has asked the council to approve, as part of his $7.1 million proposal, a $127,000 payment on a loan that would be needed to build the proposed $2.2 million fire station. If that construction loan is approved by the council this spring, the town would pay it back over the next 25 years, according to Nielsen.

It’s not clear how councilors will react to the proposal. In the last year, several of them have spoken of the need to build a fire station, but they also have expressed their hope that it could be done without increasing the town budget.

Council Chairwoman Sarah Fuller could not be reached for comment Tuesday.


“I will not vote to increase taxes on the citizens for a new fire station,” Councilor Linda Caprara said ahead of her re-election to the council last fall. “People’s salaries and wages are not going up. People are kind of hanging on, still.”

“It looks to me like that station is pretty darn small for the size of the town,” now-Councilor David Bubier said at the same time, referring to the current station. He said he supports the project as long as it’s not too much of a financial burden.

In this case, the burden may be in the eye of the beholder.

The budget proposed by Nielsen is up 6.3 percent from the current year’s $6.7 million budget. The council will hold several public workshops on the subject at dates that haven’t been determined. They will approve it sometime in May, along with a school budget proposed by the Winthrop Board of Education.

Under Nielsen’s proposal, the municipal tax rate would rise from $15.28 per $1,000 of valuation this year to $15.68 per $1,000 next year, a 2.6 percent increase.

But both Nielsen and Brooks say that it’s other items in the budget proposal, not the fire station, that are driving the increase in the town budget.


The town has just finished repaying a separate 10-year loan — for road repaving and to buy a Masonic Hall — at an annual rate of $127,000, according to Nielsen. That has freed up room on the spending side and is equal to the amount the town would begin paying on the fire station loan.

“It seemed like a logical time to invest that $127,000 in a fire station,” Brooks said.

Brooks also has applied for grants and donations to support the construction project, and he said the final price tag may come in under the $2.2 million mark.

As evidence that Winthrop gets bang for its taxpayers’ bucks, Brooks and Nielsen also pointed out that the town offers more municipal services to a larger population than its surrounding towns, but has managed to keep its tax rate similar to or lower than some of them.

The process of getting a new fire station proposed has taken almost a decade, according to Brooks. In that time, the Police Department and Winthrop Ambulance Service have both gotten new facilities. For a time, the town considered housing all three departments in one building.

The Fire Department has 25 current members and three junior firefighters. Brooks, whose day job is in Augusta, said all the firefighters are volunteers and that he gets a stipend for his work as chief.


In the 2015 fiscal year, the department was called to service 156 times, for incidents including traffic accidents (32), structure fires (6), grass fires (9), vehicle fires (4) and alarms (37), according to the town report.

Only last fall did the council approve $7,000 for the design of a new fire station.

As planned, the new firehouse would be 9,773 square feet and stand on a 3-acre plot next to the former Carleton Woolen Mills building on U.S. Route 202. The town bought the land several years ago with a fire station in mind. If the council approves the loan this spring, construction probably would start in 2017 or 2018. The building is projected to last 50 years.

The new station would include a garage, a gear room, two small dormitory spaces, a meeting area, two office spaces, a lobby, a kitchen and an exercise room.

“Anything I can do to have a guy at the station, it’s like having a free full-time firefighter,” Brooks said of the exercise room and office spaces.

Brooks offered a litany of reasons for leaving the current station.


Built in 1947, it would require a $10,000 upgrade to its floor to hold the weight of a new pumping-and-rescue truck his department would like to buy, which in turn would allow two 30-year-old trucks to be retired from the fleet.

The current station is on a small property on Main Street, where parking is limited and traffic has to be blocked when trucks exit and enter. Clutter has formed in the narrow spaces around the station. Firefighters store and put on their turnout gear — altogether worth an estimated $60,000 — in the same space as the department’s trucks, and are exposed to soot, diesel fumes and large machinery while getting ready for a response, Brooks said.

The cramped conditions and poor location can delay the department’s response to fires and accidents, Brooks said. The new station would make faster responses possible, he said.

Brooks said the department responded to fewer than 20 incidents in the last year that were near Main Street. Far more often, he said, the department must get to U.S. Route 202 or Route 133 before it can respond to an incident. Both of those roads are more accessible from the site of the proposed station.

In many cases, firefighters respond to the area around the Hannaford supermarket on U.S. Route 202; but sometimes they head to more far-flung places, Brooks said. They respond to incidents outside of town about 20 times a year.

“Realistically, when we get a call, the first thing we do is try to get off of Main Street,” Brooks said.

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

Twitter: @ceichacker

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