THORNDIKE – Wednesday night brought a shakeup in the Thorndike Fire Department, after town officials said all but two firefighters resigned at a Thorndike Board of Selectmen’s meeting.
The twenty-five firefighters resigned after failing to reach an agreement with town officials about safety concerns.
That leaves Thorndike relying heavily on neighboring departments’ mutual aid.
Those on the town’s board of selectmen said they don’t think they’ll have a problem getting new recruits for the fire department. After two stayed on the department, town officials said by Thursday afternoon, the they had another two recruits to bring the department number up to four.
Before the meeting, the chief had already resigned, leaving (now former) Captain Shawn Bristol to represent the department.
“The people of this community deserve emergency services, they pay for it. But on the same hand we have to ensure that our firefighters … go home to their families every night,” said Bristol.
The fire department came under fire after board members got a letter from four Waldo County agencies. That letter mentioned two fires last summer, where county officials claim a lack of training and non-working equipment put firefighters’ lives at risk.
Board members said they were looking out for their community by releasing that letter, and did so on behalf of the town’s lawyer.
“It’s nothing personal,” said Robert Carter, Thorndike’s second selectman. “Any town that receives a letter like that you have to respond. If you don’t, you’re putting your neck on the chopping block.”
The letter also raised concerns with a Thorndike chief who resigned a few years ago. County fire officials said he was convicted of pocketing money from the fire department.
And they said that groups like the Waldo County Fire Chiefs Association have offered training classes – to no success.
“It’s kind of hard to just give a free check, and say spend it on what you think you should spend it on, especially with the background that we’ve seen recently with that department,” said William Gillespie, president of the Waldo County Fire Chiefs Association.
Carter said they’ve worked with the department to update equipment and get them what they need.
But Bristol disagrees, saying firefighters have been asked to pay for a commercial drivers license out of pocket.
“We are in a small town in rural Maine…I don’t have the money to go spend a couple thousand dollars to go through a CDL training course,” said Bristol. “Until those safety concerns are addressed there is no deal.”
In the meantime, the department is going to keep recruiting to make sure the firehouse can stay up and running.