March 05--ETNA, Maine -- During Saturday's town meeting, Etna residents voted to change to a volunteer fire department effective July 1. The town has operated the fire department for several years.
"I have mixed feelings. In a way it's good. In a way it's bad," Shawn Ryder, Etna's fire chief, said Monday.
Because the department will no longer be run by the town, Etna is not responsible for purchasing equipment, providing a stipend to firefighters or overseeing the department, officials said.
Ryder said a board of directors will now have to be appointed and the department will have to apply for tax-exempt status from the state.
Etna First Selectman Andy Watson said the fire department requested the change.
"They wanted to try it," said Watson. "It's a year-to-year thing until they prove themselves."
Ryder said he brought up the idea at a budget meeting, but was surprised that the board of selectmen was receptive to the change.
Watson said a volunteer department will be eligible for new grant opportunities.
"As a municipal fire department, they can't apply [for] or receive grants because [the town has] a little bit of money in the bank," said Watson. "As a volunteer department, they can apply and receive more grants because they don't have the backing of the town."
Ryder agreed, saying his department was often overlooked for federal grants because of the town's surplus, which caused grant distributors to "say, if they really need it, they can buy it themselves."
By not being run by the town, Ryder and the board of directors will have more control over the department. Previously, if the fire department needed to buy something, Ryder would have to ask the selectboard for approval.
Ryder said he hopes grants and fundraisers will help replace some outdated equipment.
"We're still fighting that battle [of replacing bunker gear]," said Ryder. "I have probably 12 sets that are in dire need of replacement at $2,000 a set."
Etna Fire Department's budget last year was more than $32,000. To make sure the department could stand on its own feet in its first year on its own, residents voted to have the town donate $35,000 to it. Ryder said fuel costs caused him to go over budget last year.
Etna will lease the town-owned equipment, which includes the gear, a fire engine, a tanker, a brush truck and a rescue truck, to the fire department for no fee.
Ryder said he thought most of his 20-member crew was on board with the change.
"We have a great group of members. They're very active," said Ryder. "It's very rare that when we have a rescue that we don't have enough people."
Etna Fire Department responds to between 225 and 250 fire and rescue calls per year, said Ryder.
Bother Ryder and Watson were adamant that the fire and EMS coverage for Etna won't change.
"I have all the faith in the world that that won't change," said Watson.
"I don't see any change in the service coming," said Ryder. "I'm hoping we can continue with the same or better service we have now."
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