Data reveals impact of firefighter shortage in Oxford County

With high-stakes calls and limited resources, fire crews in the city of Oxford are trying to stay ready. “Unless you’re full-time and have benefits and a salary, it’s a tough fix,” Oxford Fire Chief Paul Hewey said. When Hewey joined the fire department 20 years ago, a switchboard call could see up to 15 department members respond. “Now it’s our team of four, myself as a full-time chef and maybe one or two people on leave who can come in to help,” Hewey said. The result is a reliance on mutual aid from agencies also experiencing staff shortages. It is not uncommon for a home fire to require responders from nearly a dozen departments. Jeffrey Burt works for several agencies in the Oxford Hill area. “We’re all doing second and third jobs, moving from department to department,” Burt said. “It’s become a thing where we have to call more cities because there are just fewer volunteers,” Burt added. Large communities in Maine have so-called “professional” firefighters who work full-time and receive salary with benefits from the communities they serve. Many small communities cannot justify the cost of hiring full-time staff. Instead, they rely on so-called “volunteer” responders. Volunteer firefighters typically earn an hourly wage or are paid based on the number of calls they respond to each year. Often, volunteer firefighters supplement income from another job by working part-time for an agency. Others work for multiple agencies to earn the equivalent of a full-time salary. “Now in the pandemic everybody wants $18 an hour, $20 an hour, $21 an hour, for everything and we’re losing people to these other jobs,” Hewey said. . 8 Investigators surveyed approximately 30 fire departments in the Oxford Hills area to obtain data on staffing and salaries. Highlights include: In Norway, only 10 firefighters are certified to enter burning buildings, compared to 20 ten years ago. Salaries range from $14 to $16 per hour. The 16 members of the city of Hebron earn between $800 and $1,000 per year if they are on site for the majority of the city’s estimated 60 calls per year. Canton, which has 16 firefighters, responds to about 80 calls a year. Payment is determined by a points system linked to calls and training. Over the past decade, the Mexico Fire Department reported a 27% drop in the number of active firefighters. The agency’s pay range is $12.75 to $15.50. The Kezar Falls Fire Department in Porter saw a 32% drop in the number of active firefighters. 86% of the agency’s firefighters are 40 or older. Almost a quarter of their list is 70 and over. Between the two departments of Hiram, nearly 40% are over 60 years old. even pick up a pipe. “Every year it gets harder and harder to get people certified, and the laws and regulations get stricter and stricter,” Garland said. Garland says he’s trying to raise salaries this budget season. “We’re looking to add several dollars to each of the positions per hour to make it a bit more attractive,” Garland added. For now, department heads like Hewey say mutual aid arrangements are working, even when the extent of support is unknown until they arrive on the scene. There are no immediate solutions to the staffing crisis, but a promise made to the communities they serve remains unchanged. “Taxpayers are paying taxes for a service we hope to provide and we are doing our best to maintain it,” Hewey said. State lawmakers are considering a proposal to boost hiring that would set aside $10 million for student loan forgiveness and interest-free home loans for officers, firefighters and EMS workers.

With high-stakes calls and limited resources, fire crews in the city of Oxford are trying to stay ready.

“Unless you’re full-time and have benefits and a salary, it’s a tough one,” Oxford Fire Chief Paul Hewey said.

When Hewey joined the fire department 20 years ago, a switchboard call could see up to 15 department members respond.

“Now it’s our team of four, myself as a full-time chef and maybe one or two people on leave who can come in to help,” Hewey said.

The result is a reliance on mutual aid from agencies also experiencing staff shortages.

It is not uncommon for a home fire to require responders from nearly a dozen departments.

Jeffrey Burt works for several agencies in the Oxford Hill area.

“We’re all doing second and third jobs, moving from department to department,” Burt said.

“It’s become a thing where we have to call more cities because there are just fewer volunteers,” Burt added.

Large communities in Maine have so-called “professional” firefighters who work full-time and receive salary with benefits from the communities they serve.

Many small communities cannot justify the cost of hiring full-time staff.

Instead, they rely on so-called “volunteer” responders.

Volunteer firefighters typically earn an hourly wage or are paid based on the number of calls they respond to each year.

Often, volunteer firefighters supplement income from another job by working part-time for an agency.

Others work for multiple agencies to earn the equivalent of a full-time salary.

“Now in the pandemic everybody wants $18 an hour, $20 an hour, $21 an hour, for everything and we’re losing people to these other jobs,” Hewey said. .

8 Investigators surveyed approximately 30 fire departments in the Oxford Hills area to obtain data on staffing and salaries.

Highlights include the following:

  • In Norway, only 10 firefighters are certified to enter burning buildings, compared to 20 ten years ago. Salaries range from $14 to $16 per hour.
  • The 16-member list from the city of Hebron earns between $800 and $1,000 a year if they are on hand for the majority of the city’s estimated 60 annual calls.
  • Canton, which has 16 firefighters, responds to about 80 calls a year. Payment is determined by a points system linked to calls and training.
  • Over the past decade, the Mexico Fire Department reported a 27% drop in the number of active firefighters. The agency’s pay range is $12.75 to $15.50.
  • The Kezar Falls Fire Department in Porter saw a 32% drop in the number of active firefighters.
  • The Harrison Fire Department reported a comparable decline in the number of firefighters while pointing to an age issue. 86% of the agency’s firefighters are 40 or older. Almost a quarter of their list is 70 and over.
  • Between the two departments of Hiram, almost 40% are over 60 years old.

New Oxford City Manager Adam Garland says part of the staffing challenge has to do with the rigorous and time-consuming training required before new hires can even take a pipe.

“Every year it gets harder and harder to get people certified, and the laws and regulations get stricter and stricter,” Garland said.

Garland says he’s trying to raise salaries this budget season.

“We’re looking to add several dollars to each of the positions per hour to make it a bit more attractive,” Garland added.

For now, department heads like Hewey say mutual aid agreements are working, even when the extent of support is unknown until they arrive on the scene.

There are no immediate solutions to the staffing crisis, but the promise made to the communities they serve remains unchanged.

“Taxpayers are paying taxes for a service we hope to provide and we are doing our best to maintain it,” Hewey said.

State lawmakers are considering a proposal to boost hiring that would set aside $10 million for student loan forgiveness and interest-free home loans for officers, firefighters and EMS workers.


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