June 23, 2018
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Tight budgets in Millinocket leave fire trucks in questionable shape

By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff

MILLINOCKET, Maine — If a large fire occurs in town, Millinocket firefighters will need help from neighboring towns to fight it, Fire Chief Andrew Turcotte said Friday.

Several years of declining town budgets — and what Turcotte described as no “well-defined maintenance and capital outlay program” — has left the Millinocket Fire Department with a 40-year-old pumper truck and a 31-year-old ladder truck that lacks a working pump, officials said Friday.

The department has a $228,000 pumper truck built in 2011. It was delivered two weeks ago, but fire and town leaders have agreed to not put it into service until they find the safest and most cost-effective way to proceed. Putting it in service would detract from its resale value, Turcotte said.

“My goal is to do the best that can be done with the resources I have because I know that times are tough,” said Turcotte, a Millinocket native who was named fire chief in October. “I want to be as transparent as possible with the council and community.”

Turcotte expressed confidence that Millinocket residents are safe. The town has mutual-aid agreements with East Millinocket and other towns. Millinocket’s fully-functional frontline vehicle, a 1973 model, is ultimately questionable due to its age and wear, but performs reliably at present, he said.

The mutual-aid agreements and firefighters’ ability to make do have combined to help the department handle three fairly large fires since late November, including one in early January on Medway Road in which several thousand rounds of ammunition cooked off.

Maine towns of Millinocket’s size typically carry three firefighting vehicles — a ladder truck and frontline and backup pumpers, Turcotte said. The dilemma town leaders face, he said, is to burden taxpayers as little as possible while ensuring that the department has a fleet to meet all emergencies.

The department’s 1984 pumper, which would be a backup to the 2011 unit, was effectively scrapped by fire officials a few months ago due to its myriad problems, including extensive body rot, Turcotte said.

Also, the department’s 1982 ladder truck lacks a working pump and has other age-related and mechanical issues that make its continuing use problematic, Turcotte said.

Turcotte has found a 2001 pumper in Pennsylvania originally for sale for more than $200,000 that Turcotte said he could buy for $140,000. It is in good condition, will have newer extrication equipment and other tools, and should last the department 20 years, he said.

If the department sells the 2011, it could buy the 2001 unit and have money left over to put into the ladder truck or to buy another used pumper, Turcotte said.

If town leaders opt to keep the 2011 unit, they would have to decide whether to allocate money for another pumper to replace the 1973 unit, to repair the ladder truck, or both, Turcotte said.

Interim Town Manager Charles Pray said the Town Council will meet sometime next week to discuss the Fire Department’s issues. He hopes to set a meeting date later in the week.

“The chief has made a good presentation on all the alternatives and options,” Pray said Friday.

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