BFD demands force end of ‘Angel’ effort, shift to community-based approach

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

Since his arrival as the town’s new fire chief, Steve Fay has discovered that his department is a close-knit, hardworking and highly-committed group.

Numbers might be low, but the amount of heart and soul present here is unquestionably high.

Yet, Fay knows there is a limit to what he can ask of his department members.

“Because of their dedication, they miss out on a variety of family functions. They sacrifice a lot to serve this town,” the chief said.

So, to lighten the load, the chief is taking one item off the department’s plate — discontinuance of the Christmas Angel program— and seeking a more community-wide effort to help those in need.

“Buying and distributing toys on Christmas Day is something we don’t have the resources to continue to do,” Chief Fay said. “We simply don’t have the resources.”

Active members total 33, at the moment. More volunteers are sought (those interested in joining the BFD should contact Chief Fay). To illustrate his point of limited resources, the chief pointed to a recent fire in North Bridgton. The fire erupted midday, and with few Bridgton fire fighters available (due to other work commitments), Chief Fay called for mutual aid from neighboring towns. That aid included manpower from as far away as Standish.

While Fay understands many families have relied upon and appreciated the Christmas Angel program over the years, he hopes those “gaps” are filled through a cooperative venture including the fire department, local agencies and churches.

Pastor Mike Zullo of the Bridgton Alliance Church, who serves as Bridgton Emergency Services public safety chaplain, said families in need can obtain help with holiday gifts by contacting local churches, as well as filling out applications for existing programs such as the Bruce Roberts Toy Fund (application is due by Nov. 9, forms are available at the Bridgton Community Center or online) and Toys for Tots.

Each Bridgton church has a program to assist those in need. The Alliance Church is a distributor for Toys for Tots. When toys arrive, the church will have tables set up to give parents a place to wrap the items. So, the public may donate wrapping paper and tape to assist this cause. Last year, the church distributed toys to 85 children.

Meanwhile, donations may be made to food pantries at the United Methodist Church and St. Joseph Church. The First Congregational Church operates a clothing program, which is open to donations.

Lisa Zullo pointed out that the Alliance Church will hand out hats, scarves and mittens during the Festival of Lights parade.

While the fire department will not accept monetary gifts, donated items (toys, nonperishable food and clothing) may be dropped off at his office (7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday) or Station 1 (Gibbs Avenue on Wednesdays).

Zullo and church members plan to help firefighters with a community baked bean and ham supper scheduled in December at Station 1.

“We’re here to help our community and those who are truly in need,” Chief Fay said. “I am trying to be sensitive to the community’s needs, but I also realize we (the fire department) don’t have the resources to continue what has been done in the past. We need to work together, and do what we can to help those who really need it.”

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