Fire protection is important, but even so, not all towns can afford to staff and equip a department of their own. The Waldo County towns of Swanville and Knox both contract out their fire protection, for their own benefit and that of the towns that provide the services.

Swanville’s contract for fire services with the Belfast Fire Department offers a mutual benefit that gives the department extra funding and relieves the town of having to pay for its own department.

The city usually enters into five-year contracts with Swanville that increase in cost by 10% every year, but will allow only a one-year contract this year because of COVID-19 hardships, Belfast Fire Chief James Richards said.

He said the department is happy with the arrangement and that Swanville pays Belfast a fair amount in emergency call reimbursement on top of the contract fee.

The fee for the current fiscal year was $23,843.39 and the department bills the town $125 per hour for equipment use and $18.05 per hour for labor when it responds to calls in Swanville, according to City Treasurer Theresa Butler.

Swanville does not have any plans to change its contract because it is focusing on other town issues, First Selectman Cindy Boguen said. The town has contracted for the services with Belfast for over 40 years and residents are happy with the arrangement. Boguen declined to provide any further information.

The town of Knox contracts its fire services out to three surrounding towns, Selectman Galen Larrabee said. Brooks, Freedom and Thorndike all have departments within five miles of the town and are able to provide services.

Knox splits about $26,400 per year among the three towns on a three-year contract basis and has no cost per call. There is no town center in Knox, so having three fire contracts satisfies its insurance company.

Having no town center also makes it difficult to recruit volunteers who can respond to calls in a timely manner, Larrabee said. And a downside to having no fire station is never knowing who will be able to respond to calls in the town at any given moment.

Brooks Fire Chief Hans Albee said the funds are enough to cover the number of calls his department responds to in Knox and he considers it a valuable revenue source.

The money goes straight into the department’s fire truck replacement fund, he said. The occurrence of wildfires has gone up in recent years and the funds helped the department pay for a utility truck equipped to fight wildfires. If the department had not had the funds from the contract, it would have had to ask the town to raise the money through taxes.

Larrabee thinks the charge is fair and similar to what other towns are paying, he said. He does not want to shortchange any towns and thinks Knox should pay its fair share of services. He acknowledged how important fire services are and said it should not be one of the first services to cut funding for.

“We need to cut as much as we can cut, but that ain’t one of the things I’d look at first to sharpen my pencil on,” he said.

Larrabee thinks paying more money than necessary is better than contracting with a cheaper department in a more urban area, because he does not want residents in his town waiting an hour and a half to get a response.

He said he sticks up for EMS and fire services at town meeting because people do not always understand how much is compromised when those funds get cut. “When you’re at the other end of the line, you think differently than the people at the other end of the line … . You get what you pay for,” he said.