Firefighters extinguish Huber’s Market on Route 1 in Wiscasset, which was set ablaze as a training fire. (Photo courtesy of the Woolwich Fire Department’s Facebook page)

WISCASSET – Wiscasset Town Manager John O’Connell last week removed T.J. Merry from his role as the town’s fire chief. 

O’Connell said Merry neglected to obtain required permits from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection prior to an Aug. 4 controlled burn of former Route 1 business for firefighter training purposes. 

O’Connell said Merry “bears the responsibility for any deficiencies” and chose to remove him from his position as fire chief of six years after consulting with the DEP, State Fire Marshall’s Office, personnel at Maine Fire Services Institute and Maine Municipal Association. 

Merry, who has been a first responder since at least 1982, could not be reached for comment Thursday. In an interview with the Lincoln County News, he stated he thought he had the necessary permits in place before the burn. 

While Merry was replaced as fire chief, he still holds a position in the fire department. Merry was removed as chief Sept. 4. 

David Madore, director of communications for the Maine DEP, declined to comment but said the issue is currently an open enforcement case. 

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “The intentional burning of facilities, including buildings burned for fire training, is considered to be a demolition under federal asbestos regulations.” 

The agency states any structure intended to be burned must undergo an inspection to ensure no asbestos, is present, as it was once widely used in building supplies before it was banned in 1989. When asbestos is burned, asbestos fibers can be easily inhaled, which increases the risk of developing lung cancer and mesothelioma, a deadly cancer of the thin lining surrounding the lungs and other organs, according to the National Lung Association. 

Peter Rines was appointed interim fire chief until November when O’Connell said he will, “determine the optimum future direction of the department and its leadership.” 

O’Connell said in the coming months Rines will, “review and update necessary policies, procedures, and training files.” 

O’Connell declined to answer further questions and a later call to O’Connell was not returned.

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