LOWELL, Maine — With an agreement with Howland temporarily guaranteeing the town fire service, officials seek to hire a chief to create a fire department to replace an inactive volunteer unit that served the town and Burlington, First Selectman John Tarleton said Wednesday.
It is too early to tell whether the department would be paid or volunteer, Tarleton said, or how much the chief would be paid.
“Right now I think we are keeping our options open,” Tarleton said.
“One of the tasks the chief has to look at is practicality of the cost of maintaining a [paid department] and the availability of volunteer firefighters in the area,” he said. “Once we see that, we will have an idea where to go.
“We are not firemen,” he added. “That’s why we want the chief to make his recommendations.”
About 30 residents voted at a town meeting Saturday to allow the board to pursue hiring a chief and to pay for interim emergency fire protection services from the town surplus, plus carry over any unexpended amounts into next year’s fire protection budget, Town Clerk Denise Myrick wrote in draft meeting minutes. The chief would be required to have a fire department plan for Lowell ready by the annual town meeting in May.
Though it hasn’t quite gone out of business, the Triangle Fire Department is no longer answering fire calls due to a lack of volunteer firefighters. Its few remaining members announced Dec. 30 that the department would be standing down until further notice, Tarleton said.
Burlington Selectwoman Beth Turner secured a temporary agreement with the Lincoln Fire Department to cover her town’s emergencies until residents could vote on a proposed contract that would pay Lincoln $4,528.76 for two months of service.
The Lincoln Town Council voted 7-0 on Monday to allow Town Manager Lisa Goodwin to negotiate the deal. Burlington residents will vote next week on whether to accept it. Lincoln firefighters will cover Burlington in the meantime.
Similarly, the Howland Volunteer Fire Department has agreed to cover Lowell until residents can decide their path forward, Tarleton said.
No significant fires have been reported in Burlington or Lowell since year’s end.
Though the Dec. 30 notification came somewhat abruptly, Triangle members had kept Burlington and Lowell leaders well-informed of their recruitment problems, Tarleton said. Lowell had been working with Burlington and Triangle for the past year on the issue, Tarleton said.
“They have done a great job in the past but they just have a problem with manpower,” Tarleton said of Triangle.
With training requirements steadily increasing and volunteer time diminishing, volunteer firefighter recruitment has long been a national issue. That it hit in Burlington and Lowell, two northern Penobscot County towns with small populations — about 300 residents in Lowell; about 385 in Burlington — is not surprising, Tarleton said.
“We are in an area where a lot of young folks just leave,” he said, “and we have a lot of elderly people here.”
Howland’s Board of Selectmen is due to meet Tuesday to discuss whether to pursue a one-year contract to provide fire service to Lowell, Tarleton said.
Lowell selectmen will discuss the chief’s search when they meet at 4:30 p.m. Jan. 20.