For decades, Wiscasset volunteer firefighters have been able to wash their personal vehicles at the firehouse. The long-standing practice built camaraderie among the crew and brought volunteers into the station, which improved response time to calls, Wiscasset Fire Chief T.J. Merry said.
Following the Wiscasset Board of Selectmen meeting Tuesday, April 5, that practice has come to an end. The issue was brought to the board following internal discussion between Town Manager Marian Anderson and Merry.
According to Anderson, the town’s policy governing the use of town equipment prohibits the practice. A motion made by Selectman Jeff Slack to override the policy and allow the tradition to continue was defeated 3-2, with Chair Ben Rines, Judy Flanagan, and David Cherry opposed.
“I don’t want you to interpret this as us not supporting (the department). My heart is with (the emergency responder community), but I have to go with what I feel is right,” Flanagan said.
According to Flanagan, Cherry, and Rines, if the privilege of washing personal vehicles at the fire station was extended to volunteer firefighters, it would have to be extended to everyone. “It’s a slippery slope,” Cherry said.
“I am very surprised and disappointed that it didn’t pass,” Merry said. “I would have thought tradition would warrant the change in the policy.” In addition to losing a tradition, the department is also losing an incentive to bring volunteers into the station, he said.
“If someone’s at the station washing their truck and a call comes in, they’re already right there to respond to it. How can you go wrong with that?” he said.
According to Merry, this is the second long-standing tradition the department has lost in the last year. For as long as Merry can remember, the department has filled pools for members in the community. It was a community benefit and also part of the department’s driver and pumper training, he said.
Last year, the department was asked to end the practice, Merry said.
“Every Wednesday we go out and pump water into a field,” Merry said. “Whether we pump water into a field or a pool, what’s the difference?”
The department used to collect donations from the practice of filling pools, Merry said. Due to a drop in donations since the department stopped filling pools, the department was unable to fund Thanksgiving baskets in 2015, another long-standing tradition of the department.
According to Anderson, the department was asked to end the practice for insurance reasons.
With the recruitment issues experienced by volunteer fire departments across the state, eliminating one of the few perks allotted to firefighters in Wiscasset will hurt the department’s ability to draw in and retain volunteers, Merry said.