Freeport fire chief back onboard

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FREEPORT — Nearly 11 months since taking unpaid leave to recuperate from shoulder surgery, Darrel Fournier has returned to his job as Freeport’s fire chief.

“It’s wonderful to be back,” Fournier said as he sat in his office, getting caught up on paperwork.

Fournier became the town’s first full-time fire chief in 1983.

Town Manager Peter Joseph said that Fournier met with him and Judy Hawley, the town’s personnel director, to announce he was ready to work again.

“He came back on Nov. 16 and he spent a lot of time getting back up to speed,” Joseph said.

Paul Conley, the deputy fire chief, was acting fire chief in Fournier’s absence. Conley received a stipend of $100 a week, in addition to his salary, to act as fire chief.

“Acting Chief Paul Conley did a great job in Darrel’s absence, but Darrel was gone for a while, so it’s good to have it resolved and have him back to work,” Joseph said. “Paul really stepped up. It’s a challenging department in terms of personnel and scheduling.”

While Fournier was recuperating, the Town Council in July added two per-diem positions to the Freeport Fire & Rescue roster. Fournier pointed out that the new hires give the department two emergency medical technicians and two paramedics to staff two ambulances around the clock.

“I’m pleased and excited about that,” Fournier said. “That has allowed us to have staffing levels that help supplement the lack of volunteers.”

In late October, Conley said he hired 14 per-diem people for the Freeport department. Conley told the Tri-Town Weekly that it’s difficult to find such employees because the work is part time with no benefits.

The search for per-diem employees goes on, Fournier said. Freeport has a “call force,” sometimes referred to as volunteers, of 25. There are 26 per-diem employees and five full-timers.

“If people are willing to come in and join the call force, we’re always looking,” Fournier said.

At the onset of winter, Fournier said he wants Freeport residents to be aware of seasonal safety precautions. He advises people with wood stoves to keep their chimneys clean and the stoves in good working order, keep doorways free of snow and be sure their smoke detectors are working.

Fournier, 59, started as a Freeport firefighter in 1974, and nine years later became the department’s first full-time chief. He held the job until 1990, when he took a similar position for nine years in Waterville. He returned as Freeport fire chief in 1999.

Darrel Fournier has been busy reviewing reports and budget matters since he returned to his job as Freeport fire chief Nov. 16.