EDDINGTON, Maine — When Fire Chief Gene Kelso resigned in early May, town leaders decided to approach Holden Fire Chief Jim Ellis to see whether he was interested in serving the community.
After asking and receiving approval from the Holden Town Council, Ellis took the job and now has a second fire chief’s helmet hanging in his closet.
“There has always been a long-standing good relationship between Holden and Eddington,” he said Tuesday, a day after giving Holden councilors a three-month report on the partnership. “Both departments are separate legal enti-ties, but share the fire chief. It makes [the relationship] even better.”
The two small communities have been automatic-aid partners for a decade, so sharing the chief makes sense, Ellis said.
“It’s a win-win for the community and the Fire Department,” he said.
Under Ellis’ leadership, the two fire departments, which each have around 30 firefighters, have consolidated trainings and officer meetings.
“The two departments train almost every week together and we’re trying to take the best practices [from both departments] and put them into place,” he said.
The partnership between the two departments means that what happens at a fire scene should run smoother, the chief said.
When Eddington expanded its town hall and fire department building last year, it added bunks and living space to start a student live-in program for the Fire Department, which is now up and running.
“It’s the 11th year in Holden and the first year” in Eddington, Ellis said.
The student live-in program means there is a body at the station to get things rolling during an emergency, a crucial key to a quick response time, he said.
The live-in students “provide routine maintenance and apparatus and equipment checks, in addition to [helping to provide] a timely response,” Ellis said.
There are two live-in student firefighters in Eddington and three in Holden. All attend Eastern Maine Community College.
Justin Chonko, 20, from Topsham started living in the Eddington fire station a couple of weeks ago and said Tuesday that he does “firetrucks checks every day, and we have a whole list of chores to do.”
Chonko said he has always wanted to be a firefighter, and is participating in the student live-in program because he “wanted to try something different.”
Town leaders had been considering the idea of sharing a fire chief with Holden for a while, Eddington Town Manager Russell Smith said.
“It seems to be working out very well,” he said. “Jimmy is a very well-respected man and everybody seems to get along with him and think it will work out great.”
Ellis added that he’s “excited about the opportunity to work in both communities.”
Ellis, who is the public safety director for Holden, also works part time for the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Department.