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Firefighter hired, pending budget approval
RUMFORD -- Following a lengthly discussion, selectmen Thursday approved the hiring of a firefighter, pending the approval of the budget in June.
By a 3-1 vote, the board okayed the recommendation by Fire Chief Bob Chase to hire Mike Arsenault of Rumford, who will replace firefighter Mark Tripp, who left to join the Auburn Fire Department.
"He's a good candidate from a pretty strong field," Chase said of Arsenault, who has six years experience with the Mexico Fire Department. While Arsenault does not have an EMS license as of yet, the plan is for him to do so during the probationary period.
Chase said Arsenault is the same candidate he recommended six or seven months ago for the utility firefighter post. However, selectmen decided to leave the position vacant.
Prior to the vote, Selectman Mark Belanger, who cast the dissenting vote, noted, "Once you hire someone, you're not going to lay them off...This is a chance to restructure. You can't keep expecting the population to foot this bill if the population keeps dwindling."
Selectman Greg Buccina asked Chase if the appointment could wait until after the budget season. Chase responded that there could be $24,000 in overtime incurred if the position was not filled.
Chase asked that the level of service not be debated in a 20-minute conversation but over several meetings before the budget season so that everyone understands all that is involved.
Board Chairman Brad Adley said he agreed with that.
Belanger then asked if there is any way they could restructure the department so that there was two firefighters on at night.
Chase said, "I wouldn't say there's no way to restructure it, but this isn't the forum. We should have workshops related to that. I just need to know what the expectation is. To be honest with you, it's been a moving target and it still remains a moving target. Having that meaningful conversation and drawing the line allows us to structure accordingly."
He noted that their department has been reduced in numbers of the last three to fours, from 13 firefighters down to nine.
"I can't have safe policies and procedures that allow for one guy, two guys or three guys, depending upon the hour of the day, and manage that if there's a moving target. I'm as anxious to get that kind of resolution as you are. But to do that, a discussion in an extended forum must take place regarding the ramifications, the advantages and disadvantages, and some science behind firefighting," said the chief.
Selectman Jeremy Volkernick, a former firefighter, wanted to make sure the words "temporary probationary firefighter pending July 1" was added to the motion. "We don't know what's going to happen during budget season. Budget season might pass with flying colors. On the other hand, we might be cut drastically."
Chase said that the position has a probationary period, which means the person could be terminated at any time.
A couple of selectmen weren't sure if the extra language was necessary, but they added Volkernick's wording anyway and Buccina amended his motion.