BELGRADE — Back in April, members of the Belgrade Fire and Rescue Departments were informed that a local resident had left them a large sum of money in her will.

“It was quite the surprise for us,” said Belgrade Rescue Chief Travis Burton. While the woman, Elisabeth “Betty” Wells, did not have a direct connection to the fire department, firefighter Gene Marshall said she was a “well-known member of the town.” Wells passed away at her cottage on Long Pond in September 2018, according to her obituary.

Rescue Chief Travis Burton carries daughter Eliana, 15 months, Monday as they pass a new rescue and firefighting ATV at the Belgrade Lakes Fire Department in Belgrade. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson

The officers debuted the rescue boat and ATV they purchased with the funds Monday night at a dedication ceremony at the Belgrade Lakes Fire Department at 1 Augusta Road. Farmington’s Cynthia Kemble, the executor of Wells’ estate, spoke at the event, noting that Wells would be “ecstatic” to see that her gift was put to good use in Belgrade.

“If Betty were here today, she would be wanting a ride,” Kemble joked, gesturing to the ATV.

Wells, who was blind for the last 20 years of her life, according to Kemble, had an adventurous spirit and “brilliant mind.” She did not hesitate to go on hot air balloon rides, planes or cruises despite not being able to see. She was also extremely generous, Kemble said, putting about 25 students through college, paying peoples’ unpaid taxes, purchasing vehicles for individuals who needed them but couldn’t afford them, financing vacations and loaning funds without an expectation of the money being returned. She left money to over a dozen organizations after her death, including Fairbanks school and church in Farmington, where she attended services every Sunday.

Burton and Belgrade Fire Chief Daniel MacKenzie declined to reveal the amount of the donation the department received but noted that it was “significant” and covered the cost of a Sonar GPS-equipped Lund Alaskan 1800 boat and a Polaris XP 1000 ATV with two skid units for fire and rescue equipment as well as snow tracks. The makers’ websites list the boat and ATV as costing at least $23,000 and $21,500, respectively, not including the additional units and costs of equipping them with radios. Members of the department said they were purchased locally at Mid-Maine Marine in Oakland and Power Equipment Plus in Sidney.

The new boat and four-door ATV will allow the Belgrade Fire Department, which covers the lakes region, to expand its capacity to perform water rescues and access areas that traditional vehicles cannot.

“Our lakes are big,” said firefighter Randy Marshall Sr., who operates the departments’ vehicles and trains its members on proper usage. “When you get wind, the waves get really hard to navigate through. They can be very tall — 2 to 4 feet at times — and our existing boat was a very shallow boat. It was such a small craft that it was difficult to put an operator, two EMTs and then a patient. (The new boat) can take four personnel, be able to carry our equipment and our patients and give us a dry, safe ride. This model boat is what the wardens also use.”

Marshall said that while water rescues are not frequent — he recalled four in the last five years — a boat is crucial because teams otherwise have no way to access victims. The boat can also be used to transport fire suppression gear and personnel to the area’s several islands, many of which have camps on them and have had fires in the past, Burton noted. About 20 of the department’s 30 firefighters have been trained on how to safely use the craft and navigate around buoys, according to Marshall, who said the rest of the department will be trained in the coming months.

Belgrade firefighters see a new rescue boat Monday at the Belgrade Lakes Fire Department in Belgrade. The new rescue boat and a firefighting ATV were donated on behalf of the estate of Elisabeth “Betty” Wells. A reception was held at the firehouse to draw attention the equipment. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson

“It will definitely be an asset to the area,” Marshall said. “Other departments like Waterville, Winslow and Oakland — they have boats but they’re not big lake boats. This just suits our particular need, but it’s something on a trailer that I can take anywhere at a moment’s notice.”

Belgrade offers mutual aid to Oakland, Sidney, Rome, Smithfield, Mount Vernon, Manchester and Readfield and has covered Fairfield and Waterville in the past.

“The mutual aid group is getting bigger and bigger because everybody is struggling for manpower,” Burton said.

The ATV, Burton said, will mainly come in handy in areas that are too small or narrow for fire trucks and ambulances to reach, including snowmobile trails.

“One of the skid units will be on there in the summer, fall and spring and has a small water tank, fire suppression equipment, pump and booster hose, which we can use to get at rural areas during wildland fire operations,” Burton said. “It can also be used for mutual aid as well as search and rescue. … The other skid unit we have is equipped to put a patient on it. There’s a seat next to it so you can work on the patient while extricating them.”

The Belgrade department sold its old boat to Oakland Fire and Rescue and its previous two-door ATV to Farmington Fire and Rescue, according to Marshall.

Burton said the fire and rescue departments are extremely grateful for Wells’ contribution.

“It was very generous of her, and it’s definitely equipment that will be used for the community of Belgrade for a long time,” he said. “It will be a huge benefit for the community and mutual aid towns.”

Both of the new vehicles are outfitted with gray lettering that reads “In memory of Elisabeth ‘Betty’ Wells.”

“Now her legacy will live on,” Kemble remarked.

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