2 Maine fire and rescue departments merge

Voters passed a ballot item to consolidate the two agencies, which includes adding two paid EMS employees to the volunteer department

By Caitlin Andrews
Foster's Daily Democrat

LEBANON, Maine — The Lebanon Fire and Rescue EMS departments are now under the same roof as of Wednesday, according to Fire Chief Dan Meehan.

“The merging of departments will really allow us to boost our manpower,” Meehan said. “We will continue to serve the town of Lebanon to the best of our ability.”

Consolidation comes after voters passed a ballot to consolidate the two agencies by a vote of 548 to 214 on June 9. Meehan has been running both departments separately since he came on board in January.

As a result of the merger, the department will now staff two paid per-diem EMS positions to be in the fire station 16 hours a day. Volunteers will still make up the fire responders.

Weekday shifts will run from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the station, with responders covering from home after 10 p.m. Weekend shifts will cover from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the station, and responders will work from home after that.

Consolidation will allow the departments to pay EMS workers a decent wage, according to Meehan.

“Before the merger, volunteers got paid $4.35 per call. It didn’t matter whether the call was 20 minutes or two hours, or what level of certification you had,” Meehan said.

Now how much an EMS worker gets paid will depend on their level of certification. Drivers will be paid $8 per hour; EMS-certified workers will get $9 per hour; EMTA’s will get $9.50 per hour, and paramedics will get $11 per hour.

The merger will also allow for greater cross-training between the two former departments, Meehan said, meaning workers will now be able to pick up shifts for either fire or rescue calls once trained.

It also means fewer service calls will be missed.

“We were missing a lot of calls in the past because we had a lack of staffing,” Meehan said. “The ambulances just weren’t getting out.”

As a result, Frisbie EMS in Rochester, N.H., recently charged the town of Lebanon with a $2,000 fine to respond to missed calls. Meehan said he is currently talking to the towns of Milton, N.H., and Sanford to reinstate mutual aid with Lebanon.

“Lebanon covers a 55-square mile town with 7,000 residents,” Meehan said. “And it’s tough to cover that kind of area when your department is volunteer staffed.”

But volunteer-run staffs are slowly becoming a thing of the past, according to Selectman Ben Thompson.

“People live outside town and travel to work a lot more now,” he said. “If someone’s tired from working all day to make ends meet, they’re going to be a lot more hesitant to volunteer.”

The merger comes after two years of turmoil in the rescue department, Thompson said. More than $200,000 of taxpayer money was borrowed from the town by former Rescue Chief Samantha Cole to pay department bills in 2013, something the departments have been trying to regroup from ever since.

“I want to give kudos to the rescue members who have stuck it out. Some of them have gone without pay for three months at a time,” Thompson said.

Thompson said consolidation would eventually mean savings for the town. The approved budget for the fire department’s 2015-2016 fiscal year was $215,748. The rescue department’s budget was $235,605.

“So many of our calls are for people who have Medicare, and that insurance only covers so much of the cost of an ambulance ride,” he said. “So if an average ambulance ride costs $800, and we only get $300 back, then the rest of that money has to get chased down.

“Oftentimes, that means we would have to write that lost money off as a loss, and people wouldn’t get paid,” Thompson said. “But with more training and filing of bills in a timely manner, we’re eventually going to start taking more revenue in.”


©2015 the Foster's Daily Democrat (Dover, N.H.)

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