– Kennebunk, Kennebunkport fire chiefs get nod from task force

The Kennebunkport and Kennebunk Fire Departments have formed a task force — with the blessing of their select councils — to look at ways the two departments could work more closely together. Above is the North Street Fire Station in Kennebunkport. Photo by Tammy Wells

The Kennebunk and Kennebunkport Fire Departments have worked well together in emergency and non-emergency situations for years, fire chiefs from both communities said.

From now on, the departments will examine how they could work more closely together on certain subjects, such as the sharing of equipment, while maintaining their autonomy.

Some Kennebunk and Kennebunkport councils have agreed to form a working group to look at areas where they might be able to work together, on equipment purchases or ideas like sharing the services of a mechanic to work on fire vehicles, for example, as do some other towns in Maine.

The Kennebunk Select Board approved the task force measure on February 22 and after discussion, Kennebunkport selectors did so on February 24.

“The pressures on municipal fire departments have increased over the years (with) increased call volumes, the need for staff, increased construction and equipment costs, and we have considered ways to help each other,” Kennebunkport Fire Chief John Everett told selectors.

Kennebunk Fire Department Central Station. Photo by Tammy Wells

The idea was born out of the realization that each department was in line to replace expensive aging ladder trucks — at around $1.2 million or more — and they began to wonder if they could share one, a said Everett.

He pointed out that the two departments and the neighboring Arundel Fire Department are already collaborating on training, holding training sessions three times a month so that personnel from all three departments can take advantage of this opportunity.

The Kennebunkport selectors discussed equipment sharing, but moved on to other issues surrounding a working group, and initially there were some reservations.

“I’m all for being a good neighbor and helping Kennebunk and looking for reciprocity with them, but I’m not very willing to sleep with another municipality and create a whole hierarchical structure,” said the coach Ed Hutchins. “All we have to do is look at the school system and see how well it worked for Kennebunkport. That’s my cautionary tale when I ask you to speak with Kennebunk. I will not support anything that robs us of our autonomy in the future, even if it costs us a little more money.

“I would be open to seeing any plans you come up with,” coach Mike Weston said. “We are dealing with professionals here and I don’t think professionals let things get out of control.”

“My opinion is that I’m totally fine with the task force and all, but I have some reservations about sharing equipment, I’d like to see how the task force would handle that,” said coach Allen Daggett.

“We would keep our administration, our deputy chiefs, etc., we will not give up any control on that,” Hutchins asked.

“No,” Everett said.

Kennebunkport City Manager Laurie Smith said she was a supporter of the task force for a number of reasons.

“We are close to finding out if we will be able to continue with an on-call fire department,” Smith said. “We were very lucky in Kennebunkport.” Smith pointed out that many other communities use per diem and full-time staff, and said if Kennebunkport were to move to a full-time fire department, it would add $1 million a year to the budget – and staffing is a concern. “We’re drawing from the same labor pool,” Smith said, noting that fewer new firefighters are entering the industry to replace those who are retiring.

She says she understands the desire to keep control over the destiny of the city and has not asked that we give it up.

President Sheila Matthews-Bull said she supports the task force idea, “but we have to be careful that the two communities come together beyond that.”

Hutchins said he feared Kennebunkport would “get crushed.”

“My point is to protect the interests of Kennebunkport ratepayers,” Hutchins said.

Weston said he felt positive about the task force and thought the discussion had been negative. He said the fire chief “didn’t need a sermon.”

Hutchins then spoke in favour, and the vote was unanimous.

In Kennebunk, the vote to approve the formation of a task force was also unanimous.

The working group will include the two chiefs, two other officers and firefighters from each community, as well as a facilitator.

“I’m really happy to see this come to light,” said Kennebunk Select Board member Kortney Nedeau. “It really makes sense to bring the two together to explore what that would look like.”

“I’m glad to see this moving in a positive direction,” said board member Bill Ward.

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