By Abigail W. Adams
Edgecomb’s volunteer firefighters and Boothbay instructors pose for a picture after extinguishing three car fires Saturday, April 18. Following their burn day, every member of the volunteer department has completed basic firefighter training. (Abigail Adams photo)
Boothbay Fire Department Captain Dave Pratt lit two flares and threw them into a Subaru hatchback filled with hay. As flames tore through the car, four of Edgecomb’s volunteer firefighters approached from a 45 degree angle on the attack hose. Four other members stood ready on a separate line as backup.
The car fire on Saturday, April 18 at a gravel pit in Boothbay was the last step for eight members of the Edgecomb Fire Department to complete basic firefighter training. Nearly every member of the volunteer department turned out for the event.
“This is what we need,” an Edgecomb firefighter said. “We need action.”
With car fire training complete, all members of the Edgecomb Fire Department are now able to enter burning buildings to fight fires from the inside. Each member has successfully completed at least 72 hours of training and extinguished a structure fire, a propane fire, and a car fire enabling them to serve on an interior attack team.
The Edgecomb Fire Department now has one of the most highly trained crews in the fire department’s history, Fire Chief Roy Potter said.
The volunteer fire department is also at a pivotal point in its history. Edgecomb voters will decide May 16 whether to enhance the currently stipended position of fire chief to a full-time municipal employee.
Edgecomb volunteer firefighters look on Saturday, April 18, as the car they will soon extinguish is consumed with flames. (Abigail Adams photo)
The fire department made the request to selectmen in March to prevent a reduction in services firefighters said they may have to make. The position of a full-time chief will alleviate the burden of the department’s regulatory requirements, provide day-time coverage for the town, and allow the fire department to direct their focus where they say it belongs – on training and responding to emergency calls.
Despite their highly trained crew, the Edgecomb Fire Department has struggled, along with other volunteer fire departments in the state, to recruit and maintain membership. Potter tallied the hours needed to complete the mandated requirements of the volunteer department at 2,067.
Volunteers spend the majority of their time completing equipment checks and filling out the paperwork required by regulation, Potter said. The result has been low morale and low turn-out for emergency calls. In 2014, there were 239 emergency calls alone.
With no public works department, the fire department handles calls that range from structure fires to car accidents to flooded roads to downed trees. The Edgecomb Fire Department also operates a first responders unit to respond to medical calls before the ambulance arrives.
Potter learned in 2013, when he was asked to inspect the two private schools in Edgecomb, that as fire chief he was also the town’s fire inspector. There are three schools in Edgecomb and approximately 30 businesses, Potter said. Due to the time constraints of his position he has been unable to contact many of the businesses to conduct inspections.
“What’s really pushing the request [for a full time-time chief] is we can’t do the job properly when it’s only done part time,” Potter said. “We [emergency responders] are a brotherhood. No one is in this line of work for the money. We’re in it because it’s the right thing to do.”
Despite the increase the request will mean for Edgecomb’s budget, Potter said a full-time chief may result in long-term savings for the town. The increased time will allow the fire chief to complete the majority of the regulatory requirements of the fire department.
It will also allow for more regular maintenance on the seven trucks in the department’s arsenal, which, Potter said, will save on costly service bills for the equipment. Most of the trucks were donated or bought through the fire department’s auxiliary.
Edgecomb volunteer firefighters man the attack hose to extinguish a car fire on Saturday, April 18. The car fire was the last step in the process to complete basic firefighter training. (Abigail Adams photo)
The newest truck at the Edgecomb Fire Department, bought in 2004, was purchased through a grant with little to no cost to the taxpayer. If able to devote himself full-time to the fire chief position, Potter said he will be able to put in the research hours needed to identify and apply for additional grants the fire department may qualify for.
Each fire department is assigned an ISO (Insurance Service Office) rating based on their ability to mitigate fire hazards. The rating, given on a 10 to one scale with one being the best, affects the insurance rates in town. Edgecomb currently has a rating of 9/10, however, Potter is in negotiations to have the ranking lowered to 9, which, Potter said, the fire department more than qualifies for.
The full-time chief will enable the department to continue to lower Edgecomb’s ISO rating, Potter said.
The request for a full-time chief, however, comes at a time when Edgecomb is running a deficit. The 2013-2014 audit, still in the final stages of completion, revealed the town’s surplus account was in the negative. In addition, the sand and salt account in the 2014-2015 budget year was overdrawn by over $40,000.
To remedy the town’s financial situation, Edgecomb residents are already facing a property tax increase. The exact amount the town will be asked to appropriate for a full-time chief is still undetermined. Edgecomb’s warrant will be finalized at a special selectmen’s meeting held Wednesday, April 22.
“I’m a taxpayer,” Potter said. “I don’t want taxes to go up either. I also don’t want to be the one to say we have to cut services. I don’t want to say we have to stop responding to certain calls.”
As the grand finale to burn day, Edgecomb volunteer firefighters douse the car with foam to ensure the fire is knocked out before it is towed away. (Abigail Adams photo)
At 7:30 a.m. on Saturday, April 18, the members of the Edgecomb Fire Department met at their station, grabbed their gear, and rolled down to the Boothbay Fire Department in Engine Five and Engine Three for staging. They were met by Boothbay firefighters and instructors Pratt, Captain John Long, and Lt. Joe Hall.
“These are our mutual aid partners,” Boothbay instructors said. “We want them to be well trained.”
In a huddle, instructors gave directions to the eight new trainees and the veterans of the Edgecomb Fire Department who turned out for a refresher course. Firefighters reviewed the proper way to approach a car on fire. They were told to pay attention to the direction of the wind and the slope of the ground, to approach from the side, to steer clear of the front and rear of the vehicle which could spit projectiles at them.
Together with a Boothbay tanker, firefighters loaded onto their trucks and sped down to the gravel pit. At the scene they again practiced throwing on their turn out gear quickly and efficiently. Air packs containing a 30 minute air supply were thrown onto their backs and attached to their SCBA masks.
In rotation, Edgecomb’s volunteer firefighters extinguished three fires set to a wrecked car donated by G & G Towing & Quick Service repair. Each time, the fire was allowed to burn successively hotter. A fire set to the hood of the car, one of the most dangerous areas for a firefighter to attack, was the final test.
Firefighters manned the hose, immobilized the vehicle, practiced using a forced entry tool, and raked the car after the visible flames were extinguished to identify and suppress remaining hot spots.
“This is what they [volunteer firefighters] all look forward to,” Boothbay instructors said. “It’s why they sit through all the classes, to get to their burn days.”
Controlling the hose and carrying the air pack are exhausting, Edgecomb volunteer firefighters said, but the training increased their excitement to respond to calls.
After the training, the fire departments returned to the Boothbay station to wash the hoses and masks, refill air packs, and complete the tasks needed to put the trucks back in service – over an hour more of labor.
“It’s really hard work,” volunteer firefighter Calvin Crocker said, “but if there’s a car fire I’m going to be ready.”