LINCOLN, Maine – Proposed municipal budget cuts could leave the town with no firefighter on duty to immediately handle simultaneous emergencies on nights and weekends, the town firefighters’ union president warned Monday.
Under a proposal to cut two positions from the Lincoln Fire Department, town leaders would have to call in mutual aid from a nearby town or wait at least 10 minutes for a firefighter to come in to cover the station when an emergency occurs and the town’s ambulance is already on a call, said Cory Stratton, president of Local 3030 of the International Association of Fire Fighters.
Stratton’s warning basically matched Town Manager William Lawrence’s May 6 announcement that the town would lay off four workers, including two firefighters, and leave two positions unfilled under a $3.8 million budget being compiled.
The firefighters, a part-time library clerk and another part-time town clerk would be laid off. An empty police officer’s position and an unfilled part-time library clerk’s position would be left unfilled, Lawrence said.
But Stratton provided more details on the cuts impact to fire service.
“I am only here to state the facts so that you will have time to think about the proposal. These proposed cuts will affect services and will increase response times,” Stratton said Monday.
Council Chairman Steve Clay and Lawrence had no comment about the statement Stratton read and gave to councilors.
In announcing the cuts, Lawrence acknowledged that response times would suffer and more mutual-aid requests from other towns might be necessary. He said it was “not a great situation.”
Stratton added to Lawrence’s argument by saying that the two cut positions will save the town about $50,000 annually — not enough to be worth it, he said — and would dash department morale.
Firefighters tripled their workload after taking on emergency medical service responsibilities in conjunction with East Millinocket firefighters. The number of calls jumped from about 400 last year to more than 1,200 so far this year, an effort that has added $62,000 to the town’s general fund so far this fiscal year — not to the Lincoln Fire Department’s budget, as had been originally promised, firefighters said.
Two firefighters man the Public Safety Building around the clock, a situation that has existed since 1947, when the full-time department began, said Deputy Chief Herve Clay, the father of Steve Clay and Councilor Sam Clay.
“I think that it’s a sad thing,” Herve Clay said after the meeting. “If we cut back our services and our response times, are the other towns that rely on us for mutual aid or service going to want a break on their contracts?”
The cuts also might force an increase in the fire insurances town businesses and residents pay, he said.
The town has seven full-time firefighters. Some town officials have discussed using firefighters from the town’s call, or part-time, firefighting staff, to fill in for full-timers, but of the 22 call firefighters, none are qualified to drive a firetruck under the state’s new guidelines, Stratton said.
Of the 22, 11 are trained to go into buildings to fight fires and perform rescues, three are new and have no experience, and six are over age 60, Stratton said.