The Orr’s and Bailey Island Fire Department is one of three departments in town, each of which is facing a shortage of volunteers. Taylor Abbott / The Forecaster

HARPSWELL — Like fire stations nationwide, which face a shortage of volunteers to staff their stations, local departments are renewing efforts to retain and recruit firefighters and EMS providers.

The town’s three stations — Orr’s and Bailey Island, Harpswell Neck and Cundy’s Harbor — have faced these issues for years, but recently made small leaps to address how to keep volunteers.

“Part of the initiative that we’ve been undertaking at OBIFD for the last 12 months is to start thinking about what volunteering at the fire department means,” Terry Gray of OBFID said Aug. 13. “This allows us to have those administrative, non-responder tasks to get done by people who don’t want to run into a burning building, which, in turn, allows the firefighters and EMS responders to do just that.”

Doug Warren, head of communication at OBIFD, added “This is a complex issue that not only affects us, but towns everywhere. To get a greater understanding, we need to take a look at the issue of fire and rescue in the town and how it’s being approached.”

Gray said the way the department recruits people has changed dramatically from the way it was 15 to 20 years ago.

“Who we relied on to be our next generation firefighters historically may have been family-oriented, very male-centric and family-linear,” he said. “The demographics of the town are changing and we have an aging population, so we just have to embrace new and different ways to think about how you volunteer.”

If someone wants to perform administrative tasks, OBIFD would pair them with a partner that works on “operational endeavors,” such as driving vehicles, or taking them in for service. This strategy is part of efforts to retain OBIFD’s current staff, while allowing for new volunteers to offer their time.

“We look at how to break that apart to make things much more manageable instead of this great big behemoth of a job,” Gray said.

The stations have been working together to improve their visibility throughout the community, too. Cundy’s Harbor Fire Department has been offering reflective house numbers for purchase across the entire town. The effort, led by EMT Meriel Longley, is just one of the ways that the stations work in concert, Warren said.

But at the same time, each station’s needs are different, according to Warren.

While OBIFD has attracted more responders than in the past, other stations, like Harpswell Neck, are still struggling to recruit and keep volunteers. Members of OBIFD were not able to give exact numbers on what each station needs to be fully staffed.

After members of Harpswell Neck Fire Department told the Board of Selectmen in 2017 they were unsure if they would be able to respond to calls because of the lack of volunteers, the town created a Fire and Rescue Planning Committee.

According to Taylor, who is the recruitment and retention chairman for OBIFD, the committee meets periodically to discuss ways to address recruitment problems and how to improve efforts in all of the town’s fire departments. A good part of the discussion, he said, focuses on outreach in order to keep the community informed on what the departments do for the town.

There have been talks about building a new, centralized fire station near the town offices on Mountain Road, but no decisions have been made, according to Phillip Taylor of OBIFD.

“The issues I see are that people are still not educated on what’s going on,” Taylor said. “They hear bits and pieces of this central station idea, and some think that it’s already been decided on and it’s happening.

“A lot of people don’t know who we are or what we do,” he added. “We have been working to put ourselves out there more and frequently look for more ways to reach out to the community.”


Comments are not available on this story.