Sagadahoc County is desperate for volunteer firefighters and emergency medical technicians, as many Mainers are working multiple jobs to stay afloat in the face of inflation, leaving less time and energy for volunteer work.
“I wish I had a crystal ball and could find the answer to getting more volunteerism,” said Wiscasset Fire Chief Rob Bickford.
While Bath and Topsham have staffed fire departments, Arrowsic, Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Georgetown, Harpswell, Phippsburg, West Bath, Woolwich and Wiscasset all rely on volunteers.
Bickford said he works a full-time job in addition to his firefighting duties. The department went from 40 volunteers 10 years ago to 22 volunteers today. He attributes much of that shortage to individual economic challenges, lack of enthusiasm for the work and poor advertising/recruitment.
“I think the numbers have gone down for a variety of reasons, the main one being there isn’t as much of a sense of community and volunteerism anymore. I also think everyone is busier than they used to be,” said Bickford. ” Most households are at least a two-income household with some working second and sometimes third jobs to make ends meet. I also think the emergency services need to do a better job advertising.”
Like most of Sagadahoc County’s fire departments, Cundy’s Harbor uses Facebook to advertise for new volunteers.
Cundy’s Harbor has a total of 18 volunteers, with eight certified firefighters and two certified EMTs, according to Fire Chief Ben Wallace Jr.
He said to become a certified firefighter or EMT, a person must attend a six-month-long course at the fire academy that includes classes two nights a week and all day Saturdays.
“The biggest challenge is finding folks that can afford to buy a place in Harpswell, with an aptitude to serve, and also give the time to volunteer,” said Wallace Jr.
Bickford said, even with 22 volunteers, many aren’t able to respond to a call because of work, family, or other commitments. He said mutual aid — calling on neighboring fire departments for assistance — “is becoming more and more crucial to public safety.”
“Departments that are calling for mutual aid from departments further away only depletes the coverage of those towns to help the department in need,” said Bickford. “We generally call on our surrounding towns of Alna, Dresden, Edgecomb, Westport Island, and Woolwich. As the numbers have declined, we have needed to reach further than that. We try not to deplete any one town of all their manpower or equipment as we realize they may have their own emergency to respond to.”