Mckenzie graduates from basic military training

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Kenneth R. Mckenzie Jr. graduated from basic military training at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, San Antonio, Texas.

The airman completed an intensive, eight-week program that included training in military discipline and studies, Air Force core values, physical fitness, and basic warfare principles and skills.

Airmen who complete basic training also earn four credits toward an associate in applied science degree through the Community College of the Air Force.

Mckenzie is the son of Julie A. and Kenneth R. Mckenzie, of Albion.

2019 Real Estate Tax Due Dates

ALBION

Monday, September 30

CHINA

(pay all up front or semi-annually)
Friday, September 27
Friday, March 27, 2020

PALERMO

Thursday, October 17

VASSALBORO

(pay all up front or quarterly)
Monday, September 23
Monday, November 25
Monday, February 24, 2020
Monday, April 27, 2020

WATERVILLE

(pay all up front or quarterly)
October 11
December 13
March 13, 2020
June 12, 2020

WINDSOR

(pay all up front or biannually)
September 30 or
Half on Sept. 30
and half March 31, 2020

Lovejoy Center welcomes back Dr. Austin

Dr. David Austin

The staff at Lovejoy Health Center recently welcomed David Austin, MD, back to the practice. He previously joined Lovejoy in 1993. David brings over 30 years experience providing medical care both in Maine and globally through volunteer organizations including Médecins Sans Frontières. He obtained a doctorate at the University of Vermont, College of Medicine, in 1985 and completed Family Medicine Residency in 1988 at Highland Hospital, University of Rochester, New York. Previously, he graduated from Bowdoin College, in Brunswick.

David recently shared: “I believe that all people deserve to be treated with respect and compassion. After deeply enjoying my fifteen plus years of work at Lovejoy and four years of work abroad, I feel that it is time for me to return to Maine, land of my birth. There is no better workplace for me today than Lovejoy Health Center.”

David will be joining physician Dean Chamberlain, physician assistants Gretchen Morrow and Bobby Keith, family nurse practitioner Kaitlynn Read, and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner Marta Hall. In addition, Deb Daigle offers behavioral health services to patients of the practice.

Ryan Pellerin named to Springfield College dean’s list

Springfield College, in Springfield, Massachusetts, has named Ryan Pellerin, of Albion, to the dean’s list for academic excellence for the spring 2019 term. Pellerin is studying Sport Management.

Criteria for selection to the dean’s list requires that the student must have a minimum semester grade point average of 3.500 for the semester.

An inside look at local volunteer fire departments

Firefighters participate in a “live burn” training exercise in Albion. (photo courtesy of Albion Fire & Rescue)

by Eric W. Austin

In the decades since, 1947 has become known as “the year Maine burned.” More than 200 fires raged across the state in the fall of that year, destroying over a thousand homes and seasonal cabins, burning a quarter of a million acres, and utterly devastating nine Maine towns. Thousands of Mainers went homeless. Sixteen people were killed. Maine’s governor, Horace Hildreth, called for a state of emergency. President Harry Truman mobilized the U.S. Army and Navy to help fight the fires and evacuate citizens.

Portents of the coming catastrophe came as early as March of that year. After a long and weary winter, the citizens of Maine were greeted by spring rains that, once they arrived, refused to let up until well into June. This was followed by one of the driest summers on record. Autumn arrived and still the rains held off. By October, all of Maine was a tinderbox just waiting for the spark.

This “cottage,” owned by James G. Blaine, was one of those located along Millionaire’s Row in Bar Harbor, and destroyed in the 1947 fires. (photo courtesy Library of Congress)

Worst hit were York County and Mount Desert Island. The fires swept through Bar Harbor and obliterated the famous Millionaires’ Row, leveled half of Acadia National Park, and forced the evacuation of the island’s residents by sea.

Finally, on October 29, 1947, the rains came, and the fires across the state were at last brought under control. In the wreckage of gutted homes and flattened forests, the people of Maine began to think about how to prepare for the next fiery holocaust.

At the time of the ’47 fires, many of the smaller towns in Maine had no formally organized fire departments, and for those that did exist, there was no system in place for communication and cooperation in case of statewide fire emergencies. That all changed in 1947. Many of our local departments were established at this time, including South China and Albion, both in 1947, and two years later, Windsor, in 1949. China Village and Vassalboro boast a slightly earlier history, in 1942 and 1935 respectively.

This article about the current state of our local volunteer fire departments is based on interviews with seven area fire chiefs, from Albion, China, South China, Weeks Mills, Palermo, Vassalboro and Windsor. Research was also conducted using the internet, newspaper archives, and the exhaustively researched book by Joyce Butler, Wildfire Loose: The Week Maine Burned, available from the Albert Church Brown Memorial Library, in China Village.

Much has changed since the ’47 fires, and our local volunteer fire departments are facing some of the biggest challenges in their 70-plus year histories. With Climate Change bringing warmer weather, drier conditions and more extreme weather events, our volunteer fire departments are more important than ever before.

Tim Theriault, China Village Fire Chief

The number one issue on the minds of local fire chiefs is volunteer recruitment and retention. “It’s a national crisis,” says China Village Fire Chief Tim Theriault. “I’ve been on the fire commission for the State of Maine for five years, and this has been the number one topic. [Statewide], we had 12,000 volunteer firefighters a few years ago. We have 7,000 now. How do we fix this? There’s no silver bullet.”

The struggle to recruit and retain members of our local volunteer fire departments is part of a broader issue involving a lack of civic engagement affecting many organizations, including the Lions Club, the Masons and the American Legion. Volunteer groups like Fire and Rescue have been especially hard-hit by the drop in civic engagement, although it’s also apparent in other areas, such as the number of people running for local office.

“We had an opening [for selectman] last election, in March, and just one person ran,” Albion Fire and Rescue Chief Andy Clark says. “I think people are less likely to volunteer for their community than they used to.”

This decline in the enthusiasm of people to engage in their communities seems to be the result of a number of factors. One frequent complaint is that people are so busy today, often with both parents working just to make ends meet, and this leaves less time for involvement in community organizations.

The internet too has contributed to a drop in community engagement. People are finding their sense of community in online groups, which are usually based on common interests or ideologies, rather than common geography, and local organizations are suffering as a result.

Over the years, our communities have also shifted from rural towns, where people often worked near their homes, on farms or in local factories, to bedroom communities where people work quite a distance from their places of residence. This has had a significant impact on our volunteer fire departments’ ability to respond to daytime fires, especially during the week.

Windsor Fire Chief Arthur Strout, 79, receiving a recognition award for 60 years of service in April 2019. (photo by Eric Austin)

“Our daytime coverage isn’t getting any better,” says Albion’s chief, Andy Clark.

Windsor fire chief, Arthur Strout, relies heavily on several retired members of the department to deal with daytime fires. “There’s about four of us,” he says. “We call it the ‘senior group.’” Chief Strout, at 79, is one of them.

Training is another area that often serves as a barrier to those who might volunteer. Over the decades, training requirements have sharply increased, demanding a level of commitment that often surprises new recruits. Achieving Fireman 1 and 2 certifications can take upwards of 100 hours of classroom time, in addition to practical training involving live burns.

“The problem is,” says Vassalboro Deputy Chief Walker Thompson, “when you tell them they’ve got to go up to the fire school every other weekend, both Saturday and Sunday, [for four months], they might start it, but then they’ll drop out. They don’t realize how much bookwork is behind it.”

“The actual requirements from the Department of Labor haven’t really increased much over the last few years,” comments Albion’s Andy Clark, “but they’ve been more strict about making sure you do it.” However, he adds, “The training that you really need to obtain to do the job is increased, because there’s a lot more to it now.”

Many of our volunteer fire departments offer classroom training at the local station to make it easier for recruits to attend. “Every Monday night,” says Weeks Mills fire chief, Bill Van Wickler, who offers the training to new recruits from China and Palermo. “[We] started in October. We’ll finish sometime in June.” The study book they use is over a thousand pages and as thick as a brick. “All of what’s required is a lot of paperwork,” he says. “There’s just a lot to it to stay compliant. We all work hard at it. It’s time consuming.”

Like training, safety regulations have become more stringent over time. This can be a heavy burden for small departments staffed by volunteers, especially since state and federal agencies hold volunteer departments to the same standards as the bigger, fulltime fire departments. “That just strangles us out here,” says Palermo’s fire chief, Joshua Webb, who is also a fulltime firefighter for Gardiner.

A firefighter in full fire gear. (photo courtesy of Vassalboro Volunteer Fire Department)

As safety requirements pile on, the cost of equipment also increases. “If it says ‘rescue’ on it, you can double the price,” Webb says. To outfit a new recruit, including coat, hat, pants, gloves and boots, it can set a department back more than $6,000.

“I remember when I first joined the department, we didn’t have any coats,” says Windsor’s chief, Arthur Strout. “The only thing we had was boots. We had to buy our boots, and back then they were fifty bucks.” Today, those boots cost $400.

Air masks, commonly referred to as SCBAs (self-contained breathing apparatus), are another bit of equipment – and expense – that departments didn’t have to worry about 50 years ago. They sell for about $1,500 apiece. It’s another expense, requires additional training, and are mandatory for any firefighter attempting to enter a structure on fire. Further, state law insists that at least four SCBA-certified firefighters must be available before anyone can head into a burning building: two to go into the blaze, while two others stand by as backup in case something goes wrong. For a small department, like Palermo with six active members but only two SCBA-certified firefighters, that’s a high bar. Luckily, strong mutual aid agreements between communities mean these gaps are often filled by firefighters from other departments who respond to the call.

“You can depend on it more than you could back 20 years ago,” says Windsor fire chief, Arthur Strout. “Twenty years ago you were more or less on your own.”

This spirit of cooperation, first sparked in the aftermath of the ’47 fires between the affected New England states and the federal government, has blossomed on the local level in recent years as a response to staffing challenges. “These towns would be hurting if we didn’t have mutual aid,” Strout says. “Other towns depend on us like we depend on them.”

It’s these agreements that have allowed departments to maintain the same reliable coverage even as they struggle to retain volunteers and the towns they serve continue to grow in population.

Windsor firefighters testing water hoses for leaks and weak spots, as required by state regulations for safety. (photo courtesy of Windsor Volunteer Fire Department.)

Perhaps the biggest – but least obvious – danger to local departments is volunteer morale. Firefighting is a major commitment. Not only are firefighters risking life and limb to keep their communities safe, they are also sacrificing time with family and friends to spend many boring hours training in order to stay compliant with increasingly stringent state and federal regulations. It’s a lot to ask from anybody, but even more so from unpaid volunteers.

Disagreements between departments and the municipalities in which they operate can be disastrous. Earlier this year, such a disagreement in the town of Thorndike led to the resignation of 28 members of the department.

As Dick Morse, fire chief for South China, says, leading an organization of volunteers is different than being the manager of paid employees. People don’t volunteer to be firefighters for the money. They do it because they want to be part of something bigger than themselves. Destroy that fragile foundation, and the whole structure collapses.

“The only way you’re going to get people to continue to volunteer,” says Weeks Mills Chief Bill Van Wickler, “is if they feel good about it – if it makes them feel good – for their contribution.”

Fortunately, in most cases, fire departments enjoy warm support from their municipal governments, although that relationship is unique for each town. While Albion and Palermo maintain a separate firemen’s association, they think of themselves as essentially a part of their municipalities. Other departments, however, remain fiercely independent.

In recent years, to encourage participation and attract new recruits, most departments have instituted a policy of paying volunteers stipends. Palermo is the lone exception to this, although Chief Webb says a stipend policy has been approved by the town select board and will be implemented soon.

Stipends tend to run in the range of $10-$15 per call for rank and file volunteers, with some departments paying a per hour amount specifically for structure fires. “You’re [basically] paying for gas,” says Dennis Strout, a member of the Windsor fire department.

Officers and chiefs receive more, on account of the administrative overhead they have to deal with, but that hardly covers the amount of work the job requires. Bill Van Wickler, in his second year as chief for the Weeks Mills fire department, admits, “There’s an awful lot more to this than I realized when I thought it would be a good thing to do. I’m not saying I wouldn’t have done it; I’m just saying it was an eye-opener. I had no idea how much work being the chief would be.”

The challenge to find new recruits for local volunteer fire departments is also being addressed on the state level. A measure, the Length of Service Award Program (LOSAP), which would set up a pension fund for Maine’s volunteer firefighters, was passed by the Maine legislature and signed into law by Gov. Paul LePage several years ago, but has since failed to be appropriated any funding. A new bill to fund the program, called “An Act to Attract and Retain Firefighters,” co-sponsored by State Representative and China Village Fire Chief Tim Theriault, was recently passed unanimously out of committee. Although it was set to be voted on by the full legislature during budget negotiations in June, it has now been delayed until next year. Despite these setbacks, Theriault remains optimistic the measure will be funded in the next legislative session.

The fires firefighters are fighting have changed as well, becoming more dangerous to the men and women on the frontlines. Fifty years ago, homes were made primarily of natural materials: wood, steel, and organic products like horse hair for stuffing and insulation. Today, those materials have been replaced with vinyl siding, petroleum-based foam or plastic, and fiberglass. “They burn faster and give off more toxic fumes,” says Vassalboro Fire Chief Eric Rowe. Ironically, the fire retardant used on many products produces deadly smoke when it does burn, making air masks a necessity for anyone venturing into a burning building. “You get it on your coat and your gear,” Rowe says. “That’s how firefighters get cancer.”

“Building construction is a lot more dangerous today,” confirms Albion fire chief, Andy Clark. “You have hazardous materials, you know, and meth labs. There’s just a lot more [to worry about] than there ever was when I started [in 1993].”

Members of Albion Volunteer Fire & Rescue. (photo courtesy of Albion Fire & Rescue)

Further, the toxic, dangerous nature of today’s house fires requires departments to maintain two sets of gear for each firefighter. One set needs to be ready to go while the other is being cleaned of poisonous chemicals. This requirement doubles the cost of outfitting new recruits, and because most of this gear needs to be custom-fitted for each volunteer, if a recruit quits, there’s no guarantee the gear you just purchased will fit the next one.

Yet, despite all these challenges facing our volunteer fire departments, the news is not all bad. This past year, China, Windsor, and Albion departments have all seen the highest number of new recruits in years, and Palermo is rebuilding its department after half a decade of decline. Fundraising efforts are up for almost everyone, and inter-town departmental ties are stronger than at any time in the past.

But what’s most important to local volunteer fire departments is having the support of the communities they protect, and recognition for the vital role they serve.

“On the worst day of the year, [when] there’s a storm, and everybody’s hunkered down in their homes, and a house catches on fire, or the wires go down, trees go down across the roads – they call me. They call my guys,” says China Village Fire Chief Tim Theriault. “If it’s ten below zero, we’re gonna be there, fighting that fire.”

Eric W. Austin writes about technology and community issues. He can be reached by email at ericwaustin@gmail.com.

Putt 4 Cass slated for May 18

Big Sister Paige Lilly and her “Little Brother” Hunter Stevens, came out to support the program that brought them together two years ago by participating in last year’s “Putt 4 Cass.” (Contributed photo)

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mid-Maine (BBBSMM) will celebrate the life of Cassidy Charette by raising money and awareness for local youth mentoring programs at a mini-golf fundraiser “Putt 4 Cass” on Saturday, May 18, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at Gifford’s Famous Ice Cream & Mini Golf, in Waterville. (Rain date May 19.) Cassidy was a junior at Messalonskee High School when she was killed in a hayride accident Oct. 11, 2014. Since her passing, her school and its surrounding communities continue to honor and remember the teen whose passion was helping others.

The third annual mini golf event invites schools, businesses, athletic teams, clubs and organizations to form mini golf teams of four players, choose their preferred hour to golf, register online and raise funds for local BBBS mentoring programs, then join the community on May 18 to “Putt 4 Cass.” Last year’s event raised almost $20,000 for local programming.

“Putt 4 Cass” will include course challenges with hourly prizes, ShineOnCass T-shirts for team fundraising, and Gifford’s Famous Ice Cream. Volunteers are welcome. Walk-ins will be accepted, as space allows, for a $20 donation.

Charette was a long-time volunteer for BBBSMM and advocated for a school-based mentoring program at her high school. In her memory, Big Brothers Big Sisters created two school-based programs pairing Messalonskee high school mentors (Bigs) with youth facing adversity (Littles) at Atwood Primary and Williams Elementary schools in Oakland. A third program at the Boys/Girls Club and YMCA at Alfond Youth Center in Waterville, matches kids in the after-school care program with high school “Bigs” from Messalonskee, Winslow, Waterville and Lawrence high schools. More than 100 youth are being served through ShineOnCass programs.

To register a team, sponsor, volunteer, or for more information, call Mae Slevinsky at 592-4616, email mae@bbbsmidmaine.org or visit www.bbbsmidmaine.org.

New books at Albion library

Albion Public Library

The Albion Library has received several new books for Juveniles from Tumblehome Learning, Inc. of Boston. Here are a few:

Non-Fiction:

Seeking the Snow Lion,
Geology is a Piece of Cake,
Remarkable Minds.

Fiction:

The Perilous Case of the Zombie Potion,
Mosquitoes Don’t Bite Me,
The Confounding Case of the Climate Crisis.

Springfield College recognizes dean’s list students

Springfield College, in Springfield, Massachusetts, named the following local students to the dean’s list for academic excellence for the spring 2018 term.

Christopher Hayden, of Madison, studying applied exercise science.

Ryan Pellerin, of Albion, studying sport management

Centenarian competes in golf tourney

Joe Y. Stroh­man heads to the golf course with his son.

100-year-old Joe Y. Stroh­man readies a shot during Masonic Lodge golf tourney. (Contributed photo)

On June 23, the Masonic Central Lodge #45, of China, hosted its annual golf tournament at the Cedar Springs Golf Course, in Albion. Joseph Y. Strohman, who turned 100 years old in January, was one of the golfers who golfed 18 holes that day. He had also donated a picture of the Pebble Beach Golf Course, in California, that he had painted himself for the live auction.

Joseph has been a mason for 62 years. The tournament was very successful thanks to the help of lodge members, families and friends. There were 47 local businesses that provided hole sponsorships to support the event who believe in the cause. Their contributions make it possible for them to continue to support the two Shriners Hospitals for Children in Massachusetts, the Bikes for Books Program, and the Widows Program. It was a fun-filled day with a great group of people coming together for great causes.

 

 

 

Seagulls claim championship

Front row, left to right, Preston Roy, Ryan Brown, Gaige Martin, Jaiden Berube, Connor Brown and Colby Nadeau. Second row, Mike Stewart, Braden Littlefield, Nash Corson, Parker Higgins, Matix Ward and Wyatt Gamache. Back, coaches Joel Littlefield, Nick Nadeau, Mike Corson, Matt Ward and Chuck Roy. Contributed photo

The Albion Seagulls captured the Fairfield PAL majors baseball championship recently. The team entered the tourney as the No. 1 seed. They took the opening game, 20-11, over Yankee Trophy, and put the title game away, 15-1, over Wright’s Dairy.