INDUSTRY – Residents voted to contract with the town of Farmington and the Farmington Fire Department for part of the Industry fire protection services during the annual town meeting on Saturday, March 11.
The first portion of the town meeting was conducted Saturday morning with the election of Paul Mills as the moderator for the meeting, and with the election for select board. Lee Ireland ran uncontested for another three-year term and won the seat with a couple ‘scattered write-in’ votes.
At 2 p.m. residents gathered at the town hall in Industry to address the remaining warrant articles for the 2023 annual meeting.
Article 17, which asked if Industry would contract with the town of Farmington and the Farmington Fire Rescue Department for $30,000 for fire department oversight and fire emergency response for the term of one year, created lengthy discussion amongst the residents, including the select board and members of the fire department.
Ireland spoke first, stating that this proposal was not an attempt to eliminate the Industry Fire Department; the goal was to supplement and support the fire department with additional resources provided by the neighboring town of Farmington.
Ireland said that Industry has a good station and good equipment, but that they lack people.
Currently the Industry Fire Department has eleven members on the roster, three of whom are certified to use SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus) which is required for entering a burning structure and other aspects of firefighting that put firefighters at risk of inhaling dangerous vapors and substances. In the State of Maine firefighters are expected to follow a ‘two in, two out’ rule for interior firefighting operations – essentially, two firefighters go into the structure and two firefighters remain outside on stand-by in case the first team needs assistance or to be rescued. This helps ensure the safety of firefighters in a dangerous environment.
Industry has three members certified to use SCBA, which means they are unable to perform interior attack operations until mutual aid partners arrive from neighboring towns.
Industry also runs medical emergency calls with trained personnel responding to high priority medical emergencies that need an immediate response. Firefighters who are cross-trained as emergency medical providers can provide care to patients while waiting for the ambulance to arrive on the scene.
Members of the Industry Select Board and the Farmington Select Board, along with Industry Fire Chief Anthony Howard and Farmington Fire Chief Timothy Hardy, have been negotiating the proposals for a few months now. The original price Farmington requested was higher, Ireland said, and they negotiated it down to $30,000 for one year.
Farmington is the only town in Franklin County with a paid full-time fire department. Farmington Fire Deputy Chief Clyde Ross, who attended the Industry town meeting, said that Farmington staffs four personnel on Monday through Friday from about 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., with two firefighters staffed in the building on nights and weekends. In addition, Farmington has a ‘call crew’ that responds to the station for calls if available.
Industry Fire, like many other departments in the county, has an on-call crew that responds to the station when an emergency call comes in. Other departments, such as Jay, Eustis, and Rangeley, operate on a ‘per diem’ model which has one or two firefighters at the station for a day shift, supported by other on-call personnel.
Industry’s contract would have Farmington Fire assist with administrative duties and record-keeping, along with offering training. In addition, Farmington firefighters would respond to all calls for service in Industry, with the exception of medical emergency calls unless specifically requested by the ambulance service. Farmington Fire would be dispatched at the same time as Industry Fire, and if Industry personnel arrived on the scene and determined that they had enough resources, they could have Farmington Fire ‘stand down’. However, if they needed additional personnel, Farmington firefighters would be on hand quickly to respond to the scene.
This year is expected to be a trial period for both towns and their respective departments, and there is an ‘opt-out’ clause for both towns if at any point during the year it becomes apparent that it is not a good situation.
One member of the fire department said that the overall proposal was probably a good idea for the town but expressed concern over the lack of specific details. She referenced a possibility of Industry’s tanker truck being housed in Farmington at the Farmington FIre Station.
Ireland said that the decision has not been made to house the tanker truck outside of Industry.
Other questions included paying more for volunteers to help boost interest. Industry currently pays $18 per hour for firefighters responding to calls and participating in training, which is a rate higher than some other departments in Franklin County. This pay would continue for Industry firefighters even with the proposed contract with Farmington.
Industry Fire Chief Howard said he has served on the department for 23 years. Looking ahead at the future of the department, he sees himself retiring in ‘a couple to five years.’ He sees both pros and cons with this proposal and he would go with whatever the townspeople decided on the issue.
At the end of the day, Howard lacks the staffing he needs, and he isn’t seeing new volunteers. It’s difficult to find people who will commit to the weeks or months of training required to get certified to use SCBA or to run medical calls, and even some of the more basic firefighting operations still require training and certification for operating the pumps or driving a fire truck.
“What are we going to do?” Howard asked. “We’ve tried everything.”
The discussion lasted for nearly an hour before proceeding to a vote by written ballot. A total of fifty ballots were cast; 40 in favor of entering into the contract and 10 opposed.
The other warrant articles were largely uncontested. Residents voted to have Industry enter into a one-year contract with Farmington for waste and recycling and to eliminate the large dumpster at the Industry Town Hall.
The final warrant article, with regards to American Rescue Plan Act funds, was discussed for some time. The select board made the decision to use $67,935 in ARPA funds for a digital sign at the town hall, hazard pay for town employees, and to replace the septic system at the town hall. There will be roughly $30,000 remaining in ARPA funds.
Residents raised concerns about the digital sign, stating that they liked the old-fashioned wooden sign, and asked if they could change to a different type of sign or remove the sign from the approved ARPA expenditures. However, the select board had already purchased the sign; the warrant article asking the town to appropriate funds was evidently a formality recommended by the town’s auditor. Multiple residents voiced their concerns over the select board making this decision without presenting it to the voters; members of the select board responded that residents should attend select board meetings and be informed and involved with the town business.
The town meeting adjourned at 4 p.m.