Newburgh votes to pay its volunteer firefighters

Posted March 11, 2013, at 3:50 p.m.

NEWBURGH, Maine — Newburgh voters approved an article on the town warrant during Saturday’s town meeting to compensate its volunteer firefighters far above what was recommended by the selectmen and budget committee.

Newburgh Volunteer Fire Department Chief Glen Williamson submitted a $25,000 budget for his 25-person EMS and firefighter crew to the budget committee. That number was cut to $5,383 by both the budget committee and board of selectmen.

Voters decided to award the department $15,000 for compensation for its fire and rescue crew at the town meeting.

Town residents also approved a raise in pay for Williamson and his two assistants — Assistant Chief Keith Miller and Assistant Rescue Chief Tom Robinson. In all, they’ll receive a little more than $7,500.

Williamson previously said he was unhappy with the number recommended by the budget committee and selectmen.

“For even the people that put in 50 hours, $200 is kind of a slap in the face,” Williamson said late last month. He added that some members put in as many as 1,500 hours a year for the department.

Historically, the volunteers had not been compensated by the town, even though neighboring departments including Carmel and Levant have stipends for their volunteer crews.

That’s changing now, Williamson said on Monday.

“I asked for $5,000 for rescue and $10,000 for the fire department [and got it],” said Williamson. “I figured once I got beyond the selectmen and budget committee, the town’s people would be quite more receptive.”

Because there was no set figure on the article, the town could raise or lower the recommended amount. Williamson stood before the voters at the town meeting to state his case.

“He did a fantastic job relaying his wants,” said Town Manager Serena Bemis-Goodall.

The fire department will also receive $7,000 in order to finish its new addition to the firehouse. It’s in need of paneling, lights and a garage door opener, said Williamson.

Williamson said he will work with the town to figure out worker’s compensation and how to dispense the money to his firefighters and rescue crew.

“I’m probably going to give them so much for every training and work session,” said Williamson. “We’ll give them $10 [per] training and $10 [per] work session and keep track of their hours. Whatever’s left over, I’ll split that up evenly per person and per hours worked.”

Board of selectmen chair Stanley “Skip” Smith, a former firefighter himself, said late last month that the committee and board decided that going from no pay to $25,000 for the volunteer firefighters “was too much money at once to throw at the town’s people,” and that’s why it was lowered.

Instead, by starting with a lower figure, the board could raise it every year.

Carmel Fire and Rescue Chief Mike Azevedo said late last month that his 25-person volunteer crew is compensated and $19,000 is set aside in order to pay the firefighters for their efforts. He uses a point system so that the money is divided fairly.

“For every call, it’s $8 [paid to each person],” said Azevedo. “It doesn’t even pay enough for gas for these guys to drive to the station.”

Williamson said there was some discussion during the meeting regarding the compensation, but most of the reaction was positive toward the fire department.

“There were a few people who spoke up on our behalf that weren’t a part of the fire department,” he said.

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