FALMOUTH — The Falmouth Fire Department still relies heavily on call companies to provide 24/7 emergency response coverage, but it’s difficult to find new recruits.
Nowhere is the pinch being felt more than at the Foreside Fire Station, which houses the town’s first fire company, formed in 1913.
On Memorial Day, May 28, the station is hosting an open house from noon-2 p.m. in an effort to encourage volunteers to learn more about becoming a call firefighter and the rewards of serving the community.
Lt. Erik Knudsen has been a member of the Foreside call company for the past 45 years; he joined as a high school student and eventually become an officer.
In its heyday, Knudsen said, the Foreside company had dozens of members who would respond to calls. Now it’s down to six volunteers plus two fire students from Southern Maine Community College.
Knudsen said being an on-call firefighter and emergency medical technician is a calling and one that comes with many rewards, not the least of which is helping a neighbor who’s in trouble.
Fire Chief Howard Rice said being a call firefighter requires a bigger commitment than ever with all of the training requirements, but agreed with Knudsen that it’s a key way to give back to the community.
Both Knudsen and Rice said they can remember a time when all call company members had to do was show up. Now there are hours of training involved, including a weekly session held every Monday night.
Knudsen and Rice said they know being a call firefighter is not for everyone, but the department is in desperate need of younger members if the town is going to continue providing fire and medical response under the current model.
“We have lots of 30- and 40-year-plus members,” Rice said, “what we lack is five- or 10-year members who will be here to pick up the slack when the rest of us are ready to retire.”
Rice said there are many times when the Foreside company would be the closest emergency responders, but “there’s nobody here to drive the truck.” Oftentimes if the engine is going to be taken out, Rice has to come and get it himself.
The Foreside call company has a long and storied history, and both Knudsen and Rice said they would be sorry to see it die. That’s why they’re hopeful even a handful of people might be willing to come learn what volunteer firefighting is all about.