The Wiscasset Board of Selectmen will meet with the fire department in an effort to repair a relationship that has been fractured since the board voted down allowing firefighters to wash their personal vehicles at the station. The meeting was requested by Selectman Judy Flanagan as an opportunity for both the board and the department to explain their positions.
Selectmen Jeff Slack and Ben Rines questioned the purpose of the meeting, especially if board members are not willing to change their votes regarding washing personal vehicles at the station. “If this is about communication, I’m not sure we know what we want to communicate,” Rines said.
For Selectman David Cherry, who has been staunchly opposed to the practice of firefighters washing their personal vehicles at the station, the meeting would present an opportunity for him to explain his position. “I would be down to do anything that would reduce the tension,” he said.
In April, the fire department was informed a long-standing tradition of the department, of members washing their personal vehicles at the station, was a violation of town policy. In a 3-2 vote, which was revisited and affirmed by the board at least four times, a motion to override the policy and allow the tradition to continue was defeated.
Since the fire department was denied the ability for members to wash their personal vehicles at the station, other issues with town policy have been raised by the department, such as a requirement for direct deposit of paychecks. Those issues would not be a concern if firefighters had been allowed to wash their vehicles at the station, Slack said.
According to the opinion of the town attorney and the town’s insurance provider, the practice of washing personal vehicles at the station opens the town up to liability.
Wiscasset Ambulance Service Director Toby Martin asked for clarification regarding the board of selectmen’s use of the term liability, which does not seem to be applied consistently throughout town departments, he said.
The Wiscasset Board of Selectmen recently opted not to open bids for a work truck for the airport. The airport manager and members of the airport committee have been using their personal vehicles to perform work at the airport for some time, Town Manager Marian Anderson said.
“This is not just about washing cars,” Martin said. “If washing cars is a liability, it’s a bigger liability to use a personal car at the airport. What is liability and what are the parameters for dealing with it?”
While some selectmen questioned what would come out of meeting with the fire department, all said they were willing to meet.
The Wiscasset Fire Department is in the process of developing a petition to bring the issue of washing vehicles to a town vote. Chair Judy Colby reiterated that she hoped it would not come to that point, and the town could work to identify an avenue that would protect the town from liability, and allow firefighters to wash their personal vehicles.
Colby pointed to an insurance policy the school department has, which protects it from liability if someone gets hurt on department property, as something to look into.
In terms of the inconsistencies around liability, “Toby’s comments are something to think about,” Flanagan said.