Harpswell firefighters finally have a place to call home

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HARPSWELL — Less than six months after the first paid firefighters were hired, extensive renovations to one of the town’s three fire stations are complete.

The project, which cost $115,000, mostly entailed remodeling the entire second floor of the Orr’s and Bailey Island Fire Department. It now features an exercise room, a full kitchen, two bedrooms, and two full bathrooms.

Members of the public who may be interested in seeing the changes are invited to attend a June 24 open house from 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

Assistant Fire Chief Phil Taylor said initially he and others in the department thought renovating the space made sense because it would quicken the firefighters’ response time in emergencies.

It was also meant to boost recruitment and retention of the department’s volunteers.

“We had mentioned to the board of directors that for those situations (when) we have a nor’easter coming up the coast, we know there are gonna be issues, if we had had a place to stay here, we would’ve just stayed here and rotated people through,” he said. “(We could) schedule it so we don’t all have to jump out of bed in the middle of the night because there’s a wire or tree down across the road.”

Now, however, the revamped building will also serve as a space for the newer per-diem firefighters to be stationed during the day, too.

The career firefighters were hired to cover the equivalent of two full-time shifts during the week, following the town’s struggle in recent years to find enough coverage from volunteer responders during the day.

“Per-diem (firefighters) are employees of the town, they work part time, and they are housed here because we’re centrally located,” Taylor said. “We’re the only facility in town that has the quarters for them to stay in even though they’re only here from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.”

Funding for the project came from multiple sources, and the updates have been roughly 18 months in the making. The first floor of the building also underwent minor upgrades two years ago that included renovating a bathroom and adding a new secure closet for storing valuables. 

A federal Community Development Block Grant for $62,000 that was administered by Cumberland County provided the largest portion of the funding for the latest renovations. In addition, the town of Harpswell contributed $31,000, and the Orr’s and Bailey Island Fire Department added $21,000 to the effort.

Some of the expenses were foreseen during initial planning, such as a new code-mandated sprinkler system necessitated by the sleeping quarters in the new space. 

Also during the renovations, members of the department were made aware that the septic system would need to be brought up to code, which also added to the cost.

The department was able to save on labor costs and materials however, as volunteers, which included responders, board members and other people connected to the department, largely contributed to the effort.

Volunteers assisted with the demolition of the old space, and the cabinets and granite countertops now featured in the department’s kitchen were donated and also installed through volunteer labor.

Steve Normand, a local architect and volunteer responder, provided design work for the renovation and served as the project’s general contractor. Firefighter Zach Stoler also installed a new fire alarm system at a reduced cost.

Taylor said the demolition was also helpful for training purposes, as firefighters practiced search and rescue drills in the space when it was under construction, and also a training exercise known as a “self-rescue.”

“We simulated they were in a room and they couldn’t get out … and (they) had to break through the Sheetrock walls and get themselves through between the studs with their gear on,” Taylor said.

The upgrades, which Taylor said have turned his department into a “state of the art facility,” come after a plan to establish a central fire department was introduced in October 2016

He added he thinks the business model of supplementing the volunteer force with career firefighters, however, especially with the building’s new upgrades, has been working well.

“We’ve got the coverage, they’re here and available, and the response time is out the door,” he said. “You can’t get any better than that.”

Elizabeth Clemente can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or eclemente@theforecaster.net. Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @epclemente

Phil Taylor, assistant fire chief of the Orr’s and Bailey Island Fire Department, in the station’s renovated kitchen, part of a $115,000 upgrade to the Harpswell building.

Renovations to the second floor of the Orr’s and Bailey Island Fire Department included adding a new kitchen, exercise room, bathroom, and two bedrooms. 

Renovations to the second floor of the Orr’s and Bailey Island Fire Department include a new kitchen, exercise room, bathroom, and two bedrooms. 

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