MEDWAY, Maine — John Lee is once again the town’s fire chief.
The Board of Selectmen voted 5-0 on Monday to immediately rehire Lee, 55, as the town’s top firefighter after more than 30 years on the job and his retirement from the position in November 2011, he said Wednesday.
Selectmen had considered several options, including consolidating departments with East Millinocket, and had hired a consultant to find a permanent replacement for him and interim replacement Adam Brackett.
But the consultant, former Brewer Fire Chief Rick Bronson, told selectmen that he found none of the candidates qualified for the job, so selectmen opted to seek Lee’s return to the job, which pays a $4,000 stipend, during a meeting with him in executive session on April 9, he said.
“I think they [selectmen] really wanted to do a consolidation, but things just fell apart,” Lee said Wednesday.
Bronson expressed sympathy Wednesday for Medway’s situation. The town’s department, he said, is getting pressured by unfunded federal mandates to continuously upgrade training and faced a lack of qualified leading officers due to a lack of available state training, both making it difficult to maintain a volunteer department.
“What became apparent is that while they on the surface had a nice group of candidates, as one began to ruminate with how those candidates would function within that department and with the other towns nearby, issues developed,” Bronson said. “They are struggling with the times. It is nowhere near as simple and easy as it used to be to operate a volunteer fire department.”
Medway also suffered from friction with its closest fire department, in East Millinocket, Bronson said.
“They’re situated really closely to each other and sometimes that builds bonds and sometimes it builds barriers,” Bronson said.
Lee said his first steps since returning to the fire department have been to begin a policy, procedures and equipment review of the department to ensure that it operates in conformance with state and federal guidelines. That review continues.
He seeks to change the department from a volunteer organization to something closer to a municipal fire department, though he readily admits that paying members salaries like municipal departments do is out of the question.
“The economy is not going to allow that,” Lee said.
The department’s command staff will remain the same, with Brackett becoming the department’s No. 2 firefighter, or assistant chief. Medway has 10 volunteers and four junior members when it should have at least 16 volunteers, thus making recruitment and the acquisition of grants for new equipment a top priority, Lee said.
“We will be looking for new membership, but first we have to secure funds for new turnout gear,” Lee said. “The gear in service is in excellent shape but with no extra gear we can’t put anybody new on” as firefighters.
Volunteers, especially those with their own firefighting gear, are welcome to contact the department at 746-9618. Lee hopes to employ members who lack gear or training as traffic controllers at emergency scenes or as drivers once driver training is finished, he said.
The department has several state-certified fire instructors who can get volunteers certified in exchange for their service, Lee said.
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