HALLOWELL — City Manager Nate Rudy appointed as Hallowell’s interim fire chief a Farmingdale firefighter with more than 40 years of experience.

The appointment of James Owens came after the City Council voted Jan. 26 to save the Hallowell Fire Department and to lease space in a soon-to-be-built Farmingdale station. The appointment is subject to council approval, which Rudy expects during Monday’s council meeting.

Owens, 60, replaces Mike Grant, who retired after leading the Hallowell department for more than 30 years.

“Chief Grant’s 30-plus-year commitment to Hallowell is worthy of celebration and the city’s deep gratitude,” Rudy said. “I am eager to discuss with Mayor Mark Walker and the council in the coming days on how best to commemorate his service.”

The Hallowell council chose to lease space in a Farmingdale station after the city’s fire services committee worked for more than 13 months to come up with the best plan. Three members of the committee recommended contracting for fire services with Augusta, while two members chose the lease with Farmingdale option, the cheaper of the two plans.

“I’d been keeping a close eye on the fire services debate in Hallowell,” Owens said. “I didn’t want to see the Fire Department go away, and I felt the 200-plus years of tradition was too much to lose.”

During public meetings, hearings and workshops, Hallowell residents expressed, almost unanimously, their desire to see the department remain in the city. Councilor George LaPointe said during last month’s meeting that he was leaning toward the Augusta option, but he thought it was important the vote was unanimous.

The Fire Department will remain autonomous while leasing the Farmingdale space. Rudy said there haven’t been any discussions about merging the two departments, but he hopes there is room for discussion around operational efficiencies and a closer partnership.

The new interim chief said mentioning regionalization raises the hair on people’s necks. He said he saw it in Colorado, where towns lost their identities when they became “north metro” or “south metro” departments.

“There’s a lot of local pride in a community’s name,” Owens said. “It’s important to communities, especially here in Maine. Nobody wants to see the Capital Area Fire Department.”

Owens did concede that regionalization makes sense when departments can start sharing stations and equipment, but there isn’t as much cost savings as someone might think.

“The name on the truck doesn’t matter to someone who’s house is on fire,” he said. “All that matters to him is that water comes out of the nozzle and the fire goes out.”

Owens started his fire services career in the Air Force before working for the Department of Defense as a civilian firefighter in Colorado. He’s been in Maine 19 years and retired from the Navy base’s fire department in Brunswick.

He spent a couple of years as the fire chief in Greenwood before moving to Augusta in 2010. He’s been a volunteer with the Farmingdale Fire Department for three years.

Owens said that coming to Hallowell after having established a rapport with the city’s firefighters while serving in Farmingdale will be advantageous. He said the department has a good group of people that he hopes to grow, though he isn’t exactly sure how to combat the nationwide trend of declining volunteerism.

There’s been a lot of talk at the state level, Owens said, about providing financial incentives such as tax breaks to volunteers, but he doesn’t think it would do much to help recruiting.

“I’ve never seen somebody come through the day and ask how much they’d get paid,” Owens said. “I think guys do it out of the goodness of their heart.”

Rudy said Owens will be tasked with assisting in the negotiations with Farmingdale and implementing community outreach and administrative programs.

“The Hallowell department will continue to train with the Farmingdale Fire Department, and we propose that the officers of both departments meet to discuss how to best make a shared station work for all parties,” Rudy said.

Rudy said he will work with Grant and Owens this month to finalize the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, including staffing, equipment needs and miscellaneous expenses under the new proposal. He said any new vehicle purchases probably would occur after the construction of the shared fire station is completed.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

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