Buckfield Rescue Department needs relief after chief quits

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By Ann Wood

BUCKFIELD—Nearly three weeks after voters at Special Town Meeting saved the Buckfield Rescue Department by reinstating its $186,585 budget, the department is in trouble once again—this time it needs personnel.

After 20 years with the Rescue Department, Chief Lisa Bennett will call it quits as of Monday. Her terse letter to the selectmen, which was read during Tuesday night’s meeting, didn’t explain why but simply said that she appreciated her years with the town.

“It’s a shame. She’s done a great service to this community for many years,” Selectmen Chair Martha Catevenis said.

And yet earlier in the meeting, Catevenis had a bit of a gripe with Buckfield Rescue Association’s donation bridge. She wanted to know whether it had ever received permission from the town to fundraise on the Village Bridge, “because it seems to be a little bit of a cluster there.” The association is not affiliated with the town.

Chip Richardson, the assistant rescue chief who will become acting chief on Tuesday until Bennett is replaced, took issue with the question.

“We’ve been doing it 16 years and we’ve never had an accident,” he said, and asked Town Manager Cindy Dunn whether there have ever been any complaints. She said she only received one over the years.

Deputy Fire Chief David Knox told the board that the chief who came before him got permission years ago.

“No one ever said we have to come back every single time we did it,” he said, to which Catevenis agreed.

Later in the evening, after the selectmen accepted Bennett’s resignation “with regret,” they were informed that a full-time firefighter/EMT had also tendered his resignation. Dunn said Wednesday that she wasn’t ready to release the employee’s name because she hadn’t yet received his formal letter of resignation. He verbally told her Tuesday that he was leaving his position, she told the Advertiser. That news worried at least one selectman.

“That’s an incredible hole that’s being left in the department,” Catevenis said Tuesday night. “We’re in a little conundrum here.”

Knox suggested that since Fire Chief Tim Brooks retires in a year or so, perhaps the two positions should be combined. But, he warned, the town won’t get a fire/rescue chief for the two “stipends” it is paying now. Richardson agreed, and further said that he doesn’t believe the town will be able to hire a rescue chief as qualified as Bennett for the $37,440 she earns in her full-time position.

Richardson didn’t want to have personnel discussions in public, he said, and added that he’d like to meet with Knox, Brooks and Dunn over the next two weeks to decide how the department should proceed.

Bennett was an asset to the town and will be hard to replace, he said. They will decide the best way to fill the position and bring their proposal to the next selectmen’s meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 30, at 6:30 p.m.

“I will do my best to make sure this town is adequately covered all the time,” Richardson said.

Last year, the Rescue Department received about 250 calls, Dunn told the Advertiser on Wednesday.

Richardson said that he and Bennett mean to have the rescue department’s schedule through October completed by the end of this week.

There will be a farewell party for Bennett from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 22, at the Buckfield Municipal Center on 34 Turner St. All are invited to attend.

awood@advertiserdemocrat.com