Freeport Fire and Rescue Chief Paul Conley. C. Thacher Carter / The Times Record

Freeport appointed Paul Conley as the town’s new fire and rescue chief on Tuesday.

Conley, who has been with the department for 25 years, is replacing former Chief Charles Jordan who retired in September after five years in that position. The town council unanimously appointed Conley at Tuesday’s meeting.

“There’s things that work really well at the fire-rescue department now, there’s things that need improvement,” said Freeport Town Manager Peter Joseph at the meeting. “We seem to have a lot of the same ideas about where improvements can come.”

Between 2019 and 2021 to date, Freeport Fire and Rescue went on 5,113 calls. In 2019 that figure broke down to 1,441 EMS calls and 525 fire calls and in 2020, 1,155 EMS calls and 581 fire calls. To date in 2021, the break down is 1,097 EMS calls and 387 fire calls.

Over his career with the department, Conley said that EMS calls have increased steadily, estimating that when he started, staff would respond to around 300 per year. Fire calls have grown, he said, but not to the same degree as EMS.

Data from previous years as well as an incident-specific breakdown of EMS calls was not available Wednesday, although Conley said the two major contributors come from those experiencing healthcare access issues as well as mental health crises. Fortunately, Conley said, overdose calls have not impacted Freeport as much as some other communities.

Conley said he would like to begin looking for new pathways to address mental health calls, like potentially promoting local services that may be available. He also said he plans to work on improving training techniques in collaboration with the police department to better address those crises.

“A lot of the times the PD is involved before us, or with us, or just after us,” said Conley.

Freeport appointed a new police chief in September, who at the time, also expressed the need for more accessible mental health services in Freeport and statewide.

In September, Freeport officials approved spending $648,000 for new fire truck. Once the new truck arrives, Freeport will have two engines, one ladder truck, three rescue trucks, a pumper-tanker truck, a brush truck and a service pickup truck.

“Equipment-wise, the biggest hurdle we have is personnel, and this is a job that isn’t attracting a lot of people anymore,” said Conley.

There are around 45 people on staff — four full-time, a dozen on-call members and the remainder per-diem members. Conley said the department has recently developed growth targets, and recruitment and retention will be one of his largest tasks. He plans to negotiate pay during the budget season, look to boost benefits for employees and improve overall training quality — particularly as it relates to remote meetings in light of COVID-19.

The department is also looking to hire two more full-time providers and to take on around six qualified per-diem members. The deputy chief position, which Conley previously held, is also now open.

Attempts to contact Joseph for further comment were unsuccessful on Wednesday.

According to Judy Hawley, Freeport’s assistant town manager, Conley was selected from a pool of 11 applicants. His annual salary will be $87,618.

A Freeport resident, Conley has his master’s in fire service leadership and is a graduate of the National Fire Academy Executive Fire Officer program. He has been working in fire and EMS work since about 1979.

“The experience that I had in those courses, the interactions I had with other peers from across the country, I just felt it has given me the toolset to lead a department, and now I have that opportunity,” said Conley. “So, I’m excited.”

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