(Source: Lincoln News)
HOWLAND – Two years ago, Fire Chief Josh McNally had his hands full. He was working on building a fire district with Passadumkeag. The ambulance director stepped down and the ambulance service was merged with the fire department. He was training firefighters to be EMTs and EMTs to be firefighters. He was also building the credibility, and professional reputation, of a small town department on a state-wide level.
Not to mention he was working full-time at the Orono fire department as a firefighter while serving 20 hours a week in the capacity of Howland’s chief.
Last year, Howland acquired a third ambulance in an attempt to keep pace with the growing business as more and more contracts and transfers began to roll in as word spread of the professionalism and skill of a small-town department.
McNally never turned his phone off, even after the 20 hours were up. His work weeks between the two jobs could hit 80 or 100 hours. But he put his people, and his community, first. He implemented a training program for his team, and a pay scale to ensure they were treated fairly.
A few months ago, the small-town department was becoming a big-time player, and the workload was more than a 20 hour man could handle and still have a healthy home life.
“It started building to the point it wasn’t feasible that the chief was only here 20 hours a week,” Town Manager David Wilson said.
The townspeople agreed, and by unanimous vote, a full-time position was created. The position was advertised internally, but both the Town’s Board of Selectmen and Town Manager knew there was only one person for the job, and he was already doing it.
“We needed him here,” Board Chair Mike Harris said. “He has done a tremendous job for us. “I felt he was filling a void that we needed help with.”
On February 23rd, McNally will officially be installed in the new position, resigning from his position from Orono, which he has held off and on for a total of eight years.
“My hesitation was it is a new service, and change is difficult,” McNally said, sitting in his office overlooking the station. “I have no hesitation about the growth, no hesitation about the community support.”
McNally has purchased a house in the area, and has long since made Howland his home. He had not been able to commit full-time to the growing department, however, as the full-time pay, and insurance, offered by Orono was more than he could afford to pass up.
Wilson and the town of Howland, however, recognized what they had in McNally, and the potential the ambulance service was demonstrating. To entice the career firefighter, they offered $16 per hour, with a guaranteed 16 hours of overtime per week. The schedule reflects most emergency services, 24 hours on duty, 48 hours off duty. The town was also able to switch insurance companies, offering all employees a much better package.
“We saved $30,000 per year switching companies and it benefitted the employees,” Wilson said.
The goal, he said, was to eventually pay for the position from the earnings of the ambulance service. McNally took the deal, not for the money, but because his passion for what he does and dedication to his employees.
“It’s like when you kindle a fire,” he said. “You start with little tiny pieces and slowly get it to grow.”
One of those growths is working with all departments in the area.
“I see that this area, whatever that may look like, still has a lot of work to do to get to the point we are all working in unison much more than we are,” McNally said. “I hope to be a part of that, to make that better.”