Lincoln County firefighters and first responders are calling on property owners to install highly visible address numbers in an effort to speed emergency response times.
Ambulance crews, firefighters, and first responders often struggle to locate an address – a major problem in a line of work where seconds can make the difference between life and death.
“Historically, fire departments have had an extraordinarily hard time locating residences when they’re responding to medical emergencies and fires, especially at night and in inclement weather, because we can’t see the numbers,” Westport Island Fire Chief Robert Mooney said.
“We have been known to drive by a residence at least twice” during an emergency response, Mooney said Feb. 25. “As a matter of fact, last night we drove by a residence because there was no number that we could see.”
The delay did not affect the outcome of the call. “It could have had a more dire outcome if it was a more dire circumstance,” Mooney said. Next time could be different. “It could be tonight,” Mooney said. “It’s really hard to say.”
Mooney estimates that one in 100 addresses on the island has a number easily visible from the road.
“I’m serious,” he said. “You drive down Main Road at night and see how many numbers you can discern. There are four numbers that I know of on Main Road, and that’s from one end to the other, that we put up, that can be seen easily day or night.”
The lack of adequate signage creates a problem on “almost every call” with the exception of repeat calls to one address, according to Mooney.
“Unless we’ve been there, it’s kind of hard to figure out who’s who in the zoo,” Mooney said.
The problem has a solution, however. At least 11 Lincoln County towns have services available that sell and sometimes install reflective signs for a nominal fee or for free. Residents simply need to ask.
Lincoln County Commissioner Mary Trescot chairs the Central Lincoln County Ambulance Service Inc. Board of Directors. She also delivers flowers for the Louis Doe Home Center, a job that reminds her of the issue every day.
Trescot often has to knock on a neighbor’s door before she locates the right house.
In Bremen – where the fire department will install reflective house numbers at no cost to the property owner – she estimates three out of four houses have highly visible numbers.
Bremen reminds residents of the importance of the numbers with a simple message in the annual report: “We can’t help you if we can’t find you.”
Elsewhere in the county, Trescot estimates one in three addresses has a number easily visible from the road. “Every town is different,” she said.
Businesses and homeowners often install non-reflective numbers next to their front door – little help to drivers, especially when the structure sits well off the road. Other houses lack numbers altogether.
On country roads where the post office delivers to a cluster of mailboxes at the end of the road, the entire road might lack any house numbers whatsoever.
Even a mailbox number at the end of a driveway can be inadequate. Mailboxes often only have a number on one side to accommodate mail deliveries. Emergency vehicles could come from either side – or both.
Bristol Fire Chief Paul Leeman Jr. usually asks Lincoln County Communications, which dispatches the county’s fire departments, for a name to go with each address.
“Luckily we know most of our residents or have a rough idea as to where we are going,” Leeman said.
Local knowledge only goes so far, however.
“At night I am searching mailbox numbers or house numbers with a flashlight in hand as I am driving slowly to find the correct address,” Leeman said. “The numbers are usually on one side of the mailbox, which seems to be the opposite side of the direction that I am traveling. There are a lot of residences with no numbers or markings.”
Leeman and some other chiefs recommend blue reflective signs instead of green, as the blue appears to show up better.
While Bremen offers free numbers and others charge a small fee, Westport Island’s Mooney wants to go a step further.
The fire department was originally offering signs for $15 apiece. The fee includes installation.
“We actually put the sign up on the house to make sure it can be seen from both directions and it conforms to what we’d like to see,” Mooney said.
Sometimes a post at the end of a driveway makes more sense. “We provide the post and drive it in and set it up,” Mooney said.
Despite the bargain price and attempts to publicize the service, the department has had little interest, Mooney said.
The board of directors of the nonprofit Westport Volunteer Fire Department proposed a solution: an ordinance change requiring every address to have reflective signs, with the town picking up the expense.
Mooney hoped to see the proposal go to a vote at the annual town meeting in June, but it has met with some resistance from other town officials. (See “Westport Island Planning Board tables ordinance change” on page 2.)
Mooney plans to make a presentation at town meeting to gauge support among residents.
On the Boothbay peninsula, the Boothbay Region Community Center is tackling the same problem. The loss of the peninsula’s 24-hour emergency room in 2013 makes emergency response time “more important than ever,” according to Director Jane Good.
The center makes and sells reflective blue address signs for $20 apiece. Volunteers will install the signs for those who cannot do so themselves.
Right now, the community center is encouraging people to consider a sign as a Father’s Day or Mother’s Day gift.
“For $20, you can save a person’s life,” Good said.
For more information about local services, see “Where to find address signs” below.
Where to find address signs
Several Lincoln County organizations offer free or low-cost address signs as a service to residents. Some offer installation, either to ensure visibility or help residents who cannot install the signs themselves. For more information about these services, see below.
The Boothbay Region Community Center makes and sells reflective blue address signs for $20 apiece. Community center volunteers will install signs for those who cannot do so themselves. Order forms are available at the community center, open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Saturday in the Meadow Mall. The center generally fills requests within two to three days.
The fire department provides and installs address signs – 6-by-18-inch metal plates with 4-inch reflective numbers – free of charge. To request a sign, ask any firefighter or first responder, contact the town office, or email email@example.com.
Central Lincoln County
The Central Lincoln County Ambulance Service sells reflective signs for $20 or $23 with a garden post. The ambulance service will install signs if necessary.
To request a sign, pick up a flier at the town office in Bremen, Bristol, Damariscotta, Newcastle, Nobleboro, or South Bristol, or call the ambulance station at 563-7105.
Forms are available at the town office. A $15 fee covers the cost of materials. The Jefferson Fire Department will install signs for those who cannot do so themselves.
To request a sign, sign up at the town office or contact Fire Chief Robert Mooney at 460-0367 or firstname.lastname@example.org.