Lack of certified firefighters in Berwick causing delayed response

Posted July 30, 2012, at 6:47 a.m.
Last modified July 31, 2012, at 9:33 p.m.

BERWICK, Maine — The lack of a certified driver at the Berwick Fire Department contributed to the loss of a building owned by a Rochester Street business, according to a report from the assistant fire chief. But some residents remain convinced that the Fire Department didn’t respond fully because of an outstanding problem with the company in question.

On June 30, dispatch first notified the Fire Department at 7:42 p.m. about a building fire on 137 Rochester St. — the actual address later was reported to be 136 Rochester St. The building on fire was an 8-foot-by-8-foot gazebo-style building used by tenants of Hall Brothers Roofing to dispose of trash. The fire claimed the majority of the building and was permitted by Assistant Chief Bruce Plante to be torn down after his investigation.

In addition to the concern over a conflict with Hall Brothers Roofing, some residents have cited a spotty history of the Fire Department responding to calls for help within the community.

Specifically, Ron Long has put in a request for the Board of Selectmen investigate the matter. The board plans to discuss how to handle this request at their next scheduled meeting at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 7.

According to a report filed by the Berwick Fire Department in accordance with the National Fire Incident Reporting System, firefighter John Kennedy cites the absence of a certified driver as the reason he informed dispatch to contact Somersworth for mutual aid.

“I arrived at the station and had no drivers for the Engine or Truck One. After two tones and no drivers I had dispatch call Somersworth for mutual aid,” Kennedy’s remark states. “I arrived on scene with Squad Five and had an eight by eight building burning. Somersworth was first on scene and had the bulk of the fire knocked down.”

“At that point I assumed command from Lt. Clough from Somersworth Fire,” Kennedy’s report continues. “I notified dispatch the fire was under control and to cancel all other incoming units except station coverage and medical.”

Assistant Chief Bruce Plante arrived on scene a short while after and conducted an investigation into the incident.

His report corroborates Kennedy’s previous claims.

“When I spoke to John Kennedy he told me that when the call came in and he arrived at the station they had no drivers for engines or the truck so he contacted dispatch and had them put on a working fire assignment,” Plante’s report states. “When they arrived on the scene, Somersworth was already on scene and had the fire knocked down.”

South Berwick Fire Chief George Gorman, Somersworth Fire Chief Keith Hoyle, and employees of Hall Brothers Roofing present during the fire all confirmed these reports — Somersworth arrived at the fire and was followed shortly after by Berwick.

As Lt. Sam Tibbets explained, the Berwick Fire Department is primarily an on-call department, which results in a lot of limitations and restrictions. The fire on June 30 was an example of such a limitation.

“Mutual aid was called because we couldn’t get a truck out,” Tibbets reiterated. “We didn’t have a certified driver.”

Because Berwick is primarily an on-call department, the majority of firefighters were away from the station when the fire occurred.

“We certainly don’t have any issues with the company,” Tibbets said. “They are a great and active member in this community.”

“We’re looking at ways to try and improve upon a current lack of staffing,” Plante said. “It’s still a big issue after several years.”

© 2012 the Foster’s Daily Democrat

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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