Casco considers fire, rescue consolidation

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

CASCO — An almost precise plan for consolidating Casco’s fire and rescue departments has been on the table for quite a while. In fact, most volunteers often assume it is already in place.

However, a complete consolidation is still around the corner. It could be a reality as early as next summer; and, there are a few steps toward implementing the plan.

First, each department (fire and rescue are still separate) will have to draft two budget options — one based on current expenses of that department, and another projecting costs if the departments were combined. Secondly, Casco voters must have their say-so during the town meeting in June. Therefore, the timeline to syndicate the departments could be July 1, 2013.

Fire Chief Jason Moen and Rescue Chief Holly Hancock talked about following through with the consolidation plan that has already been put to paper. They brought their presentation before the Casco Board of Selectmen recently.

“We are trying to create a common administration to make everything run smoother,” Hancock said.

Chief Moen explained, “More than anything it is merging one administration with another. It would be one public safety department.”

“There would be fire chief. Then, there would be deputy chiefs over each station. There will be one less position, and duties will be reassigned. (The consolidation process) is about streamlining operations,” he said.

“The consolidation idea has been on the horizon for a while. When I came aboard as chief, I made it one of my management goals to make it happen,” Moen said.

During the Nov. 13 selectmen’s meeting, the general consensus was to move forward with the plan at the budgetary level.

“The accounting codes are going to be the biggest challenge. The purchase order codes and the account codes — a big part will be merging those together,” Moen said.

In addition to voter approval of the 2013-14 budget for a single fire and rescue department, “There are some town ordinances that would have to be modified that would allow the consolidation to happen,” Moen said.

Changes to town ordinances would require the go-ahead from voting residents. That is the general sentiment of the community members who serve as firefighters and emergency responders.

“We started these talks last year. We have talked with both departments; and, the overall opinion of both departments is: ‘We wanna go forward with this,’” Moen said.

Hancock echoed his sentiment, “We have been talking about this for so long that some of our members think it has already happened. They are like, “Okay, didn’t we already do this?’ ”

Currently, there are 40 volunteers in the fire department, and 13 people trained and certified to work on rescue.

In January 2012, Casco selectmen backed using existing funds to pay two rescue department employees to be present at the station during the daytime hours. One of the reasons behind this change was to shorten the response time to 9-1-1 calls. Another reason was to retain trained personnel by offering paid positions.

The next several months will present another phase in the evolution of Casco’s fire and rescue departments. That proposed change should come to light as the departments’ budgets are fine-tuned.

According to Casco Town Manager Dave Morton, “Moving forward in June makes a lot of sense.”

“I think it is a good idea to go through the budget process with two budgets: One with two separate budgets as always, and another budget with the departments combined,” he said.

Selectman Ray Grant asked the chiefs if they would be comfortable with the June timeline.

“Administratively, it makes sense to start with a new budget year,” Moen responded.

Selectman Tracy Kimball liked the idea, too.

“Presenting it in that manner would give people in the town a good idea of how consolidation would work,” Kimball said.

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