The Falmouth Fire Department is training eight new staff members. From left are Assistant Chief Jay Hallett and Capt. Colin Shea; Keegan Wellauer, Sam Whitener, Josh Lindgren, Nick Hutchins, Alex Morin, Forrest Collins, all firefighters and EMTs; firefighters/paramedics Anna Allard and Dustin Barry; firefighter/EMT Brody Burke and Chief Howard Rice. Courtesy / Falmouth Fire Department

FALMOUTH— Eight of 14 new firefighters hired in Falmouth have started training and will soon be onboard as the town’s first full shift of full-time firefighters.

The new hires, coming in through a $1.3 million increase in the Fire Department’s $1.8 million budget from 2019, will greatly improve service, according to Chief Howard Rice. The rest of the new full-time firefighter and EMT staff will come in January, but with the full-time staff, quality service throughout the day and night is assured, Rice said.

The new hires are slated to start their first shift Aug. 23, following three weeks of training.

“The last couple of years we were having a hard time at night getting (call/volunteer) trucks to respond,” Rice said. “Sometimes nearly no truck responded, maybe it was just the chief and the ambulance that would go to calls.” 

According to Rice, the Fire Department should have at least 10 firefighters on scene for a residential call; for a commercial fire alarm there should be at least 13. However, Rice said for the majority of calls the department has been lucky to see an average of three on scene, at least initially.

In a previous Forecaster story, Rice said the average response time for Engine 1 is close to 11 minutes and, due to a lack of personnel, a second engine often takes more than 14 minutes to arrive. In an earlier story, he also said the department has received calls where other towns beat Falmouth to its own scene.

Before the recent hires there were only six full-time employees in the department, including Rice, an assistant chief, a deputy chief, two captains and an administrative assistant. According to Rice, there are about 30 per diem firefighters who rotated and often work for other departments, and about 60 regular, on-call volunteer firefighters, a drop from 100 regulars in 2011.

Rice said the fire department responded to 2,216 incidents in 2019, compared to 1,796 incidents in 2014. Of those, 1,395 were calls for medical assistance, which have increased 35% since 2011. All firefighters working in Falmouth also have either EMS or paramedic training.

“We are guaranteed a night response now, and that’s a huge increase in customer service to the town,” Rice said. 

Taking on more EMS calls has strained the department, Rice said previously, as oftentimes CPR is done for 20 minutes before a patient is transferred from a scene, which can tie up resources.

At the same time, fewer call personnel are available because they usually have full-time jobs elsewhere. Falmouth is also an expensive place to live, so volunteers may opt to eventually work in the town they live in instead of volunteering in Falmouth, Rice said.

The new hires all have varying levels of experience, ranging from fresh-out-of-school to years with other departments.

We received 59 applications for these spots, we were overwhelmed by the amount of good applicants; there was more than 14 really qualified applicants and we are lucky on the ones we have,” Rice said.

New hire Brody Burke, 21, said he is excited to start his role with Falmouth. Originally from Vermont, he studied fire science at Southern Maine Community College and, as a student, spent time as a live-in first responder with the Falmouth department.

“I fell in love with it, I had good mentors, they were always teaching us new things, and I realized it was something that I wanted to do more than volunteering,” he said.

Burke said he looks forward to getting to know the community better and having a full-time position in his “field of passion.”

“I like helping people; I also love the team aspect. I played sports all throughout school, and the team effort of it drew me to it. I had good friends whose fathers were in it (emergency services), I was always around it and that kind of drew me,” Burke said.

Nick Hutchins, 37,  of Gray, had been a firefighter for 18 years with various call companies before taking the full-time position.

“I met Chief Rice 11 years ago on a training ground. I was impressed, he is squared away and he’s organized, those are people you strive to work with, it takes chaos and makes it simple,” Hutchins said. “When this opportunity arose, I thought it would be good to challenge and better myself and work for someone I can learn a lot from.”

So far, the team has trained on the trucks and completed hazardous material drills.

According to Rice, the varied level of experience on the team has meant that all can learn from each other.

“We were out there this morning checking the trucks and one of the guys had an issue on a light tower on the truck. Immediately we went over to have Nick come fix our problems. Having these guys with experience is huge for us,” Rice said Aug. 7.

“We as a department are so thankful for the council’s support and the towns in these tough times,” he added. “It’s amazing the support Falmouth has throughout the town. We had a budget increase and we don’t take that lightly; we are going to provide an incredible service.”

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