Chief questioned about BFD changes; board discusses town vehicle policy

Steve Fay,
Bridgton Fire Chief

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

When Steve Fay became fire chief, there was a list containing the names of 50 members.

50 sounds like a good number, but Fay quickly discovered it was hardly an accurate one.

“I expected a department of 50, but it’s not even close,” Chief Fay reported Tuesday night after Selectman Bear Zaidman indicated there was some public concern regarding perceived losses amongst the fire company’s ranks. “There were some people on the list that were deceased.”

Ultimately, the list was pared to 30 active members. Of those 30, just 14 are self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) certified — meaning they can strap on an air tank and fight a fire from the inside. Of those 14, Chief Fay is one of them. “A town this size, that’s way short,” he said. “I should be monitoring the safety of my folks, not being inside.”

But, the chief says if he is needed to fight a fire, then that’s what he will do.

“Some are unable to be active due to family issues, but do the best that they can,” Chief Fay noted. “Some people have left, but we have also added new people, like our chaplain who is now seeking fire training, and we had a gentleman yesterday take out an application. We’re trying. We have an advertisement that runs at the Magic Lantern Theater, as well as one that is in the Bridgton News.”

The chief admitted some people did leave the department because they did not like the direction he planned to take the BFD. Fay summed up his approach in three words — structure, order, discipline.

“I don’t run a department myself,” he said. “I run the department as a management team.”

The chief admitted he has been frustrated by being “blindsided at times” by public comments and inaccurate statements.

“My door is open. If you have a question, ask it. I’ll answer it. That’s the best I can do,” he said.

Chief Fay then asked Zaidman, who had been a longtime firefighter, when was the last time he saw the department have 50 active members.

“I haven’t seen 50 active members in a while,” he responded.

Recruiting new firefighters is a nationwide problem, Fay added. When Selectman Carmen Lone asked about whether BFD partnered with Lake Region Vocational Center’s firefighting program, Fay has offered students the chance to work with his crews on Wednesday nights or as community service time, but response has been limited. He noted that the LRVC firefighting program, at times, has teetered on being able to fill enough seats to offer the class with eight to 11 signing up, but then dipping down to just six.

Use of town vehicles questioned

Although Bridgton has a policy that outlines how town vehicles should be used, some taxpayer concerns were raised to selectmen regarding whether the rules are being followed.

Bridgton Town Manager Bob Peabody said the policy took effect in 2010.

When some concerns were raised about Fire Chief Steve Fay’s use of the town-owned vehicle, Peabody realized he had been remiss in going over the policy with the fire chief, who has been on the job two years this coming December.

Because the chiefs — Police Chief Rick Stillman and Fire Chief Steve Fay — along with Public Works Director Jim Kidder are technically on the job 24/7, Selectman Carmen Lone sees no problem with them using town vehicles at times on the weekends.

“I can’t imagine going on a joy ride in it to Massachusetts,” she said. “I imagine he has a more comfortable vehicle.”

Chief Fay said he does drive the town vehicle, at times, on the weekends because he is headed to work on the department’s airboat or meeting with firefighters, whose free time is on Saturdays or Sundays.

Selectman Bear Zaidman also pointed out that the fire chief keeps his protective gear in that vehicle, and thus should have quick access to it if an emergency call comes in. Fay added that he also keeps two fire extinguishers and a safety vest in that vehicle.

“Every town struggles with this question,” Peabody said.

“I don’t want to be in a situation that I drive by something because I don’t have the right equipment,” Fay said. “I don’t go outside the borders of town or on joy rides.”

Peabody said the discussion about town vehicle use was not intended to be “accusatory,” and that since taxpayers foot the bill, they have a right to ask questions.

Kidder pointed out he uses the town-owned vehicle during the week, but not on weekends unless it is “snow season.”

“One time I had a vehicle problem and asked the town manager if I could use the town vehicle until my vehicle was fixed,” Kidder said. “Each department head is different, and should be looked at differently. The fire chief, his equipment is in the town vehicle.”

Selectmen asked Peabody, along with the chiefs and Kidder, to review the policy and determine if recommendations should be made to the board.

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