Tighter Budgets in Millinocket ME Leave Fire Apparatus in Limbo

Several years of declining town budgets in Millinocket (ME) and what Fire Chief Andrew Turcotte describes as no “well-defined maintenance and capital outlay program” have left the town with  a 40-year-old pumper truck and a 31-year-old ladder truck that lacks a working pump.

The department has a $228,000 pumper truck built in 2011. It was delivered two weeks ago, but fire and town leaders have agreed to not put it into service until they find the safest and most cost-effective way to proceed. Putting it in service would detract from its resale value, Turcotte said.

Turcotte expressed confidence that Millinocket residents are safe. The town has mutual-aid agreements with East Millinocket and other towns. Millinocket’s fully-functional frontline vehicle, a 1973 model, is ultimately questionable due to its age and wear, but performs reliably at present, he said.

The mutual-aid agreements and firefighters’ ability to make do have combined to help the department handle three fairly large fires since late November, including one in early January on Medway Road in which several thousand rounds of ammunition cooked off.

Maine towns of Millinocket’s size typically carry three firefighting vehicles — a ladder truck and frontline and backup pumpers, Turcotte said. The dilemma town leaders face, he said, is to burden taxpayers as little as possible while ensuring that the department has a fleet to meet all emergencies.

The department’s 1984 pumper, which would be a backup to the 2011 unit, was effectively scrapped by fire officials a few months ago due to its myriad problems, including extensive body rot.

Also, the department’s 1982 ladder truck lacks a working pump and has other age-related and mechanical issues that make its continuing use problematic, Turcotte said.

Turcotte has found a 2001 pumper in Pennsylvania originally for sale for more than $200,000 that Turcotte said he could buy for $140,000. It is in good condition, will have newer extrication equipment and other tools, and should last the department 20 years, he said.

If the department sells the 2011, it could buy the 2001 unit and have money left over to put into the ladder truck or to buy another used pumper, Turcotte said.

If town leaders opt to keep the 2011 unit, they would have to decide whether to allocate money for another pumper to replace the 1973 unit, to repair the ladder truck, or both.

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