HARPSWELL — The Orr’s and Bailey Island Fire Department moved its annual auction, a key fundraiser raises a significant chunk of the department’s funds, online due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Roughly 100 items will be auctioned online this summer, with a fundraising goal of $25,000.

The annual auction and yard sale typically raises about a quarter of the volunteer department’s annual $225,000 budget, according to Doug Warren, head of the fire department’s communications committee.

“We’re concerned we’re looking at a shortfall, which would be problematic,” said Warren. “The pandemic has created uncertainty throughout our society and that trickles down to the first responders trying to support our community.”

Warren said the department receives an annual $60,000 stipend from the town but relies heavily on funds raised through the auction and yard sale, as well as the $45,000 on average gathered in annual appeals.

The auction usually boasts around 150 auction items and draws about 250 attendees, according to Cristine Donovan-Hall, vice president of the department’s board of directors.

Gatherings of more than 50 people are prohibited under Gov. Janet Mills’ plan to reopen the state’s economy while fighting COVID-19.

This challenge comes at a time when the department is facing increasing expenses from necessary but expensive personal protective equipment for first responders.

“These are your neighbors,” urged Warren. “They’re putting themselves at risk, and we need your support to do that safely.”

Ben Wallace, the department’s chief, said he has frozen all spending that isn’t essential.

“We’re used to paying $35 to $40 for a box of face masks,” said Wallace. “I just bought 100 N95 respirator masks for $750.”

Those protective equipment costs are now stacked on top of the $3,000 is costs to outfit each firefighter and the department’s other needs, including a new fire engine to replace the department’s 1991 vehicle.

“It’s a standard transmission, which means half of the people in the department can’t drive it,” Wallace said.

On average, a fire engine is expected to last 18 to 20 years. Wallace said the last truck he had to replace cost $417,000.

David Mercier, chief Harpswell Neck Fire Rescue, said he’s facing similar budget constraints because “we endure the same costs as full-time departments.”

“I have 12 air packs that have a 10-year expiration,” he said. “If those are due to be replaced, it’d be well over $50,000.”

Despite the mounting costs, Mercier said he’s more concerned about what would happen if COVID-19 hit his first responders.

“We can’t afford to lose personnel,” he said. “We have to maintain a certain safety standard that cannot be relaxed.”

While Harpwell’s three fire departments — Orr’s and Bailey Island, Harpswell Neck and Cundy’s Harbor — are facing financial challenges, Art Howe, Harpswell fire administrator, said each of them is essential to keeping the town safe because “God made us some challenging geography.”

Harpswell covers several long, narrow islands and peninsulas which jut out into Casco Bay. Drivers have to drive inland to get from one peninsula to another. For instance, Pott’s Point Preserve at the southern tip of Harpswell Center and The Giant’s Stairs on the southern tip of Bailey Island are just over one mile apart as the crow flies, but getting there by care takes 30 minutes to cover 17 miles.

“If you’re having chest pain and the nearest medical professional is 20 or 30 minutes away, that’s a long stint,” said Howe.

Combined, the three departments see about 800 calls each year, about 70% of which are medical calls. Howe said the majority of those calls come in the summer when Harpswell experiences it’s “seasonal influx” of summer residents and visitors.

More information on the online auction will be posted on the department’s website, obifd.org.

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