Chief Ronnie Rodriguez, right, of the Skowhegan Fire Department and other firefighters assess their response to a fire on Feb. 2, 2023, at the production facility for Gifford’s Famous Ice Cream at 25 Hathaway St. in Skowhegan. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file

SKOWHEGAN — Call firefighters in Skowhegan are set to get an increase in pay, which officials say will help attract new members to a dwindling force.

Firefighters on the call force will now be paid between $17 and $22 an hour when they respond to calls, according to a new pay structure that selectmen approved Tuesday. Previously, they were paid the minimum wage or just above it, depending on qualifications, according to Fire Chief Ronnie Rodriguez.

The raise increases were necessary to attract and retain members of the force, according to the chief. The new pay rates put Skowhegan in line with other fire departments in neighboring towns, according to figures Rodriguez provided.

“It’s long overdue,” Rodriguez said.

The department currently has only seven call firefighters, Rodriguez said, in addition to about a dozen full-time firefighters on staff. The number of call firefighters has dropped significantly over the years, town officials said.

Relying on more call firefighters saves the town money, since they are only paid when needed and do not receive benefits, said David Bucknam, interim town manager and police chief.

The “modest” and “incremental” change would have only amounted to a difference of $900 in the last six months and falls within the current budget, Rodriguez said.

Selectmen unanimously approved the pay increases and expressed their support for first responders.

“I was appalled to learn that the town of Skowhegan was paying their call firefighters minimum wage,” Chairman Todd Smith said before the board voted. “I took embarrassment to that.”

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