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Fire Department holds open house to bridge divide

By Kendra Caruso | Oct 18, 2019
Photo by: Kendra Caruso Children run around the Thorndike Fire Department Oct. 12 during its open house.

Thorndike — Only six people braved fall temperatures and cold rain to participate in the Fire Department's open house Oct. 12. It was a chance to meet the new fire chief and crew after all but two firefighters quit in February and the town subsequently brought the department under municipal management.

The department had planned family activities about fire safety, with prizes, in an effort to answer residents' questions and help bring the community back together, but weather failed to cooperate. Chief Ronald Stevenson and two other department members had hoped to have a larger turnout, but the chief said they had difficulty advertising the event in time.

At their annual town meeting in March, Thorndike residents voted in an all-new Board of Selectmen and approved establishing a municipal fire department. When it came time to appoint a fire chief, Stevenson said, “I just threw my name in the hat … and if I was selected by the selectmen, I would try to get the department back to more of a reliable department for the community to depend on.”

Currently, the department has six members, but the chief wants to increase that to 15. Stevenson has been trying to recruit more members since he started in June, but has had a hard time increasing participation.

Senior firefighter Timothy Veazie was a member of the old crew that left, but came back after Stevenson was hired. He remembers the drama between the previous Board of Selectmen and the department, which was private at the time and received no town tax dollars.

Veazie said there was an unsubstantiated accusation against the previous assistant chief that the selectmen tried to act on without due process. This spurred the walkout, leaving only an interim chief and one firefighter. Veazie could not remember the details of the accusation.

Many residents were also frustrated with the previous selectmen. They failed to address issues with the town’s salt shed, which was out of compliance with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection standards, in a timely manner and were not planning the bicentennial, according to current Selectman Michael Mayer.

The new selectmen have since taken action on the salt shed and planned the bicentennial, which the town celebrated Sept.14.

Now, the fire department and the town are working to put the turbulence behind them. They are connecting with the community through events like the town’s bicentennial and the department’s open house, Mayer said.

Veazie said the department’s progress is slow but steady. Much of the progress has to do with bringing the station into compliance with state requirements. There is a lot of work to do to bring equipment up to date.

“It’s slow-moving, but moving, at least,” Veazie said. “A lot of it has been organization and reorganization.”

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