Wiscasset voters will answer the question of whether the town will allow its firefighters to wash their personal vehicles at the station Tuesday, Nov. 8.
The question has brought the Wiscasset Fire Department into conflict with the town administration and the Wiscasset Board of Selectmen.
On the local ballot, Wiscasset voters will either say yes or no to the question: “shall the town vote to continue to allow the members of the Wiscasset Fire Department the use of the Wiscasset Fire Department to clean their personal vehicles?”
“There’s a lot of support,” Wiscasset Fire Chief T.J. Merry said, “but we’ll know for sure Wednesday morning.”
The controversy erupted in April when Town Manager Marian Anderson informed the Wiscasset Fire Department that washing personal vehicles at the station was a violation of town policy.
Doing so had been a tradition in the department for more than a half-century, helped build camaraderie among the crew, and brought volunteer firefighters into the station in an era when volunteerism for local fire departments is in decline, according to Merry.
Since April, the Wiscasset Board of Selectmen has voted several times on a motion to revise town policy regarding the personal use of town equipment. The motions would have enabled the practice to continue, but each time they were defeated 3-2. The selectmen opposed primarily cited liability concerns.
Wiscasset’s attorney and insurance company have advised against the practice, saying the town would be liable for any insurance claim that could result if a firefighter was injured while washing a personal vehicle at the station.
The development of a waiver to absolve the town from liability was explored; however, no waiver fully addressed the liability concerns raised by some selectmen.
With the town and the fire department unable to resolve the conflict, the Wiscasset Fire Department circulated a petition to bring the question of whether firefighters can wash their vehicles at the station before the town.
The petition fell two signatures short when it was submitted to the town in mid-September; however, additional signatures were collected and the Wiscasset Board of Selectmen voted 4-1 to put the question forward for a townwide vote.
The decision is now in the hands of voters, Wiscasset Board of Selectmen Chair Judy Colby said. Even if voters give the fire department approval to wash their vehicles, “I hope people realize … it doesn’t relinquish the town’s liability in case of an accident,” Colby said.
“It’ll be good to have this behind us,” Merry said. “It’s weighed a lot on us. We’re a pretty close group. We just want it back the way it was.”
The polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Wiscasset Community Center.