NEW GLOUCESTER — The Fire/Rescue Department’s loss of seven members in recent months has nothing to do with the department “being torn apart by leadership,” Chief Toby Martin says, and instead is due to a trend of decreasing membership as a result of fewer people entering the profession and low pay.

But former Capt. Scott Doyle said Martin’s and former Town Manager Carrie Castonguay’s leadership are why he’s no longer with the department. He said he was dismissed in October “for not having dedication to the town and the department.” He had worked for the town’s Fire/Rescue for more than 23 years. 

New Gloucester’s fire/rescue department has lost seven members in recent months. Jane Vaughan / Lakes Region Weekly

I stepped down as a captain because of things going on inside (the department), and I didn’t want my name to be part of it. By me stepping down, (Castonguay) felt like I needed to be removed completely,” Doyle said. 

He declined to elaborate further on the “things going on inside” in order to protect himself, he said.

Doyle rejected the assertion that he was not dedicated to the department.

“I am absolutely dedicated to the community and to the department,” he said. “It’s all them playing games.” 

Martin, who was appointed in February, said that none of the Fire/Rescue members who left were dismissed.

“If they were, I cannot talk about it because it’s a personnel issue,” he said.

Chief Toby Martin said the recent departures in the fire/rescue department are due to membership decreases that have been ongoing for years, not due to his own tenure as chief. Jane Vaughan / Lakes Region Weekly

Those individuals have left on their own. They have not left on us telling them they’re all done,” he said. 

The department now has 19 community members, sometimes referred to as volunteers although they are paid, and 21 per diem employees.

Doyle feels that “our little community department” is “being torn apart by leadership inside,” including Martin and Castonguay.

Castonguay, who recently resigned as town manager, did not respond to a request for comment.

Martin said some of the members who left “just see the department going in a different direction. It’s not the local establishment like it used to be many many years ago.”

In July, the department changed the way it pays its members. They now are paid at an hourly rate rather than receive a budgeted stipend. The town also transitioned to 24-hour EMS coverage this summer, and Martin said that “some people feel that we transitioned a little too fast.”

He said that the department’s membership has been decreasing for years, so it is not a new phenomenon, adding, “This is not something that has taken place just because I’m the new chief here.”

From November 2013 to November 2018, the department averaged 3.6 people responding to a scene, according to statistics Martin provided. This year, that number is 3.3. Response times have also gotten slower, a fact Martin attributes to less manpower in the department. From November 2013 to November 2018, it took the department an average of 8:44 minutes from dispatch to arrival on scene. This year, it took the department nearly 17 minutes.

Martin also chalks the recent departures up to a decrease in the number of people entering the profession and the low pay.

The volunteerism that used to be is no longer,” he said. “We’ve lost many members who were members for 15-20 years, and it’s going to take some time to get that historical knowledge of the department back.”

He said the department sent out recruitment fliers last month in an effort to attract more members and has received three applications. The department recently hired three new members, but Martin said they’re “green as green can be.”

He acknowledged that there have been times where there has not been a qualified person available to drive a fire truck when needed. In those cases, the town relies on Automatic and Mutual Aid, which “is how we’re surviving,” he said.

Some residents are concerned about the impacts this loss of personnel will have on the community and its safety.

At the Nov. 18 Selectboard meeting, Tamilyn Wayboer urged the board to investigate why the department has lost so many veteran members so quickly. 

I strongly object to the blanket response that it’s personnel issues,” she said. “From what I understand and from what I’ve seen, it’s a leadership issue.”

“Good people don’t just leave without a good reason,” she continued. “There will be lives at risk if there aren’t already.” 

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