Burlington – Facing both budgetary and manpower pressures, Burlington Fire Chief John Smith urged residents to agree to a fire contract with nearby Howland to provide full-time coverage.
Taxpayers overwhelmingly agreed to the idea on Monday night, with Burlington’s fire station and equipment remaining in town hands. They also agreed to pay $34,000 to fund the contract for the coming year.
The move with save money, Smith told about 30 residents attending Monday’s town meeting, and allows the department a chance to return should membership numbers increase.
For now, Burlington will serve as a substation of the Howland Fire/EMS Department, with Howland leasing Burlington’s engine as part of the deal. Howland will also leave one ambulance in Burlington as part of the arrangement, which will be reviewed annually.
Currently, Burlington has eight firefighters with five qualified to go inside a burning building, Smith explained to voters at Monday’s town meeting.
“If we don’t have all five (qualified interior firefighters at a scene), there’s nothing we can do,” he said.
Also, some department members have opted to retire, including Calvin Dixon and Fred Curtis, who were honored with an ovation at the meeting.
Smith said he went through a few scenarios regarding the department’s future:
- Continuing as a municipal department at risk injury due to low numbers,
- Shutting the department down and contracting service with another nearby town,
- Or approach Lincoln of Howland to provide primary coverage while allowing the Burlington department to build its numbers and keep its equipment.
Howland Fire Chief Josh McNally said the partnership could be a model of regional cooperation for other areas of the state to match.
“We’re in challenging times for EMS,” McNally said. “I think the answer truly is regionalization. I think this is a model for the area, if not the state.”
Burlington is not alone in trying to find firefighters and emergency responders, Mcnally added.
Under the plan, Burlington’s station, trucks and equipment would remain in their station for now, with Howland leasing the trucks for $1 per year and handling needed truck repairs, Smith said.
Matters regarding replacing trucks would still be left with Burlington voters, Smith and Mcnally noted. Also, Howland would put one of its ambulances at the Burlington station, allowing for potentially quicker access to residents.
Smith noted that the department’s budget would increase if the Howland contract were turned down, as he asked for $44,250 in a separate warrant article.
Additionally, Burlington faced paying $7,700 to the East Millinocket ambulance service by July 1 in order to make up for revenue loss, Smith said.
East Millinocket has teamed with Lincoln to provide ambulance coverage for several area towns after Penobscot Valley Hospital opted out of the ambulance service several years ago.
Some attending the meeting were learning of the town’s fire coverage plans for the first time on Monday and felt more time was needed.
“This is going way too quickly for me,” Tim Wakefield said.
McNally said that Howland and Burlington have been developing a proposal for some time.
“It’s been something we have been working on for months,” he said.
Former selectman Steve Sundberg felt the town should move forward with the proposal. “I think it’s worth the risk,” he said. “It’s worth the investment for our future.”
(Originally Reported in the Lincoln News)