Newcastle’s Taniscot Engine Co. is hosting a public meeting concerning potential changes to the fire department at 9 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 11, at the Faith Baptist Church on Mills Road in Newcastle.
Interim Newcastle Fire Chief Casey Stevens said by phone on Monday, Sept. 6, that he was told by Town Manager Sarah Macy that the board of selectmen decided to shift the town’s fire chief position from full time to part time.
“I was shocked,” Stevens said.
He decided to organize a public meeting to discuss with Newcastle residents the potential changes to the fire department.
However, Macy said by phone on Tuesday, Sept. 7, that nothing has been officially decided, although selectmen are considering a change to a part-time chief.
Selectmen have not brought up the part-time fire chief idea in a public meeting, but the issue was discussed during an executive session held on Thursday, Sept. 2, Macy said.
The town is researching what it needs in the way of fire protection and Macy has talked with other towns about how they classify fire department positions.
The town requested a justification from the Taniscot Engine Co. on why it needs a full-time fire chief. Macy said there has been no response yet.
“They’re having a hard time justifying a full-time position when we have towns around us like Damariscotta who are able to get by without a full-time chief,” Macy said.
She said selectmen want to make sure they are spending taxpayer dollars wisely.
The Taniscot Engine Co. has operated as an independent entity since 1876, although the town provides funds for the department and owns the Clayton V. Huntley Jr. station building, which it leases it to the fire company.
The town also funds the position of full-time fire chief since the budget item was approved at town meeting in 2010.
Selectmen discussed the possibility of a fire department ordinance and a shift to an all-volunteer fire department with Stevens and other department members at a workshop on July 14.
Joel Lind, chair of the board of selectmen, said that the town and the fire company operate under a “gray area,” which introduces liability issues where the town could potentially be sued if someone is injured at a fire scene.
Stevens disagreed, saying he thought the fire company is adequately covered under its current insurance policies.
Town attorney Peter Drum said a shift to a volunteer department would alleviate many of the liability concerns for the town, the fire company, and firefighters themselves. He laid out the concerns in a letter that was presented at the workshop.
He also said he would like to see a fire department ordinance enacted in the town.