By Jesse Scardina
KITTERY, Maine – A few weeks ago, the Fire Department, comprised almost entirely of on-call volunteers, fought a brush fire for several hours during the afternoon.
The response was terrific, according to Fire Chief Dave O’Brien, the department’s lone salaried employee. About 15 certified firefighters responded, battling the blaze during the middle of a work day. Although O’Brien called the response “excellent,” having adequate responses to day-time fire emergencies is getting more difficult, as volunteers continue to dwindle.
“On a good day we get enough,” O’Brien said. “Some days we struggle.”
Between extensive training required, a bevy of other activities and responsibilities of everyday life, the volunteer pool for small-town fire departments has dwindled. Yet, while the numbers of men and women available to fight fires is decreasing, O’Brien said the staff he has is better-trained than in years past due to state and federal regulations.
“Back when I joined, it was what we did,” said O’Brien, who has been on the Fire Department for roughly 40 years. “Now, there are more and more things people can do outside the realm of this. That, and the added level of training, has scared people away. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I have a better trained workforce now than we had 40 years ago.”