NEW GLOUCESTER — The fire and rescue department’s vacancies have finally been filled and emergency response time has been reduced after months of resignations left the station short-handed.

Fire Chief Toby Martin said Wednesday that the departure of seven longtime members had the department searching for new members and took a toll on the work they do.

Martin said the door is open for additional community members to join the department that includes 20 call members, four who also work as per diem employees, plus 17 per diem members.

Some per diem members live in Kingfield, Bethel, Rumford, Raymond, Sabattus, Portland and Gray, Martin said.

Four members will be promoted as newly appointed fire officers effective Feb. 3, with a pinning ceremony at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 10, at the fire station.

Interim Deputy Chief Craig Bouchard of Lewiston will fill the role of deputy fire chief. Lt. Hale Fitzgerald of New Gloucester will be promoted to captain. Private Chris Gill of New Gloucester and Private Eric Beaulieu of Gray will each be promoted to lieutenant. Three of the four officers hold positions in other fire departments and will work as per diem members in New Gloucester.

With a full staff and 24-hour coverage, response time has been reduced to less than two minutes to leave the station, not 14 to 16 minutes, Martin said.

Each member is cross-trained to respond to fire and rescue calls, he said.

“With their skills training, leadership and knowledge these officers bring tremendous benefit to the town of New Gloucester, helping us to face the challenges ahead,” Martin said, who is rounding out his first year as department chief.

In 2013, the New Gloucester Fire and Rescue Department transitioned from a first response unit to include an ambulance transport service. Before that, department members used to arrive at calls to stabilize the injured while waiting for ambulance services from out of town.

“We have to think differently to meet the new demands,” Martin said. “The job has changed with rules, regulations and requirements for OSHA, the state of Maine, Maine Emergency Medical Service and local jurisdiction.”

Martin has begun working on a preliminary budget for fiscal year 2021. This year, the department budget was $643,112, combining fire and rescue departments. And members are now employees earning hourly rates for training and response time served.

New Gloucester provides 24-hour coverage to respond to calls, but also relies on nearby communities for assistance, if needed. Based on mapping, the town is broken up into districts, with Gray, New Gloucester, Poland, Pownal, North Yarmouth, Durham and Auburn providing aid.

Mutual aid affects fuel costs and wear and tear on apparatus, incident pay and staffing for the community. “We don’t charge each other,” Martin said.

“We are now out the door in less than two minutes, compared to 14 to 16 minutes before we provided 24-hour service from the fire station,” he said.

New Gloucester responds to 400 rescue calls and 200 fire calls annually.

“What we have lost in thinking differently is the historical knowledge of the department, which is the community’s knowledge. Our goal is recruitment and retention,” Martin said.

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