The century-old Skowhegan Fire department building on Tuesday, April 24, 2018. Building a new public safety building for the police and fire departments has become a contentious issue. Morning Sentinel file

SKOWHEGAN — Skowhegan and Oakland fire departments have signed a mutual aid agreement as departments statewide branch out for additional resources due to a lack of manpower.

The agreement was discussed at Tuesday’s Board of Selectmen meeting, held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic. Selectman Todd Smith spoke in favor of the agreement, citing prior conversations with Chief Shawn Howard about the town’s department and what the needs are.

“(Howard) shared information with me on our own call force, where we have 14 active firefighters,” Smith said. “Of the 14, the person that showed up the most at calls in 2020 showed up to 48% of them. The most active firefighter showed up to less than half of the calls.”

On Thursday, Howard said that departments regionally are branching out to departments that are farther and farther away in response to a lack of manpower that many departments are experiencing. Currently, he said, Skowhegan has mutual aid agreements with a slew of neighboring towns and regularly responds to calls in Waterville, Fairfield and Pittsfield as well as connecting towns, such as Norridgewock, Cornville, Canaan, Madison, Anson, Athens and Harmony.

“All fire departments are branching out further and further and further, and that’s basically in response to the lack of the manpower that we all experience today,” Howard said. “We have less and less firefighters, and the availability of the firefighters we do have is less than what we’ve seen in the past.”

A trend he’s noticed lately is seeing six to eight departments respond to calls that may have only needed the response of one to three departments just to get the needed manpower on scene.

“That’s what we have to do to get the numbers at the scene that we need to effectively get to safely fight fires,” Howard said. “The call firefighters fill a very important role in fire service and they always have. The amount of training and classes that you have to take is a lot to ask. There’s a lot of safety standards that need to be met and it’s a big commitment, but it can be a rewarding one.”

The agreement between Oakland and Skowhegan states that if there is an emergency incident that is beyond what either department can handle, the fire chief can request the other and their resources to assist or provide stand-by coverage.

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