By Leslie H. Dixon
OXFORD —Selectmen say the town’s new fire chief must be licensed in EMS in order to successfully oversee the municipal Fire/Rescue Department.
“I feel strongly that someone leading an ambulance service should know something about it,” Selectman Scott Hunter told the Advertiser Democrat on Tuesday, Feb. 7. “When we didn’t [have that requirement], it didn’t work out.”
Former Oxford Fire Chief Wayne Jones submitted his resignation in December 2016 after some members of his department told him they would no longer take his commands and handed him a letter of no confidence.
Oxford is requiring a candidate who currently is EMS licensed or can obtain a license within six months of being hired.
Hunter, who formerly served as Oxford’s fire chief and was recently appointed Paris fire chief in addition to being a battalion chief with the Auburn Fire Department, said it’s a requirement that only makes sense.
Oxford Fire/Rescue has personnel who are certified or licensed as an emergency medical technician, advanced emergency medical technician or an emergency medical technician paramedic. Not all personnel are certified, however, but at least one paramedic is generally on board the town-operated ambulance on each run, said Hunter.
Hunter said he argued for the EMS requirement before when the town sought a fire chief two years ago and felt strongly enough about it again to push the issue at the selectmen’s meeting last week even after the advertisement had been published.
Although the board unanimously agreed with Hunter and did change the job posting to reflect the new requirement, selectmen questioned whether the requirement would restrict out-of-state candidates from applying.
Hunter, who has been certified as a Basic EMT since the age of 15, said he agreed that the chief needn’t be certified as a paramedic because that requirement could exclude some good candidates.
According to information from the Maine Department of Public Safety’s EMS division, if a person holds a valid license or certificate entitling them to practice as an EMS provider in another state or territory, he/she may receive reciprocal licensing provided the applicant satisfies all other requirements of Maine EMS.
Allen Leo, licensing agent for the Maine EMS division of the Public Safety Department, said the division does not regulate fire chiefs in terms of EMS licensing for those who supervise municipal rescue squads, only those employees within the department’s rescue service who respond in an ambulance.
“We have no regulations for fire chiefs who supervise rescue as part of their job,” he said.
To obtain an EMS license, an applicant must first have successfully passed one or more tests for four levels: a paramedic, EMR, EMT and advanced EMT. Classes are required to take the test, Leo said. The applicant for an EMS license must fill out a form that requires he or she show the results of that testing and applicants must also provide any national certification, criminal background and other basic application questions, he said.
Regardless of volunteer or employment status, each EMS provider, whether municipal or private, must meet state training, testing and licensing requirements in order to practice emergency medical care in Maine, according to information from the Maine EMS.
Emergency medical responder (EMR) and emergency medical technician (EMT) are the basic life support (BLS) entry levels for persons seeking to become licensed EMS providers in Maine, according to information from the Maine Board of EMS. From the BLS levels, EMS providers continue their training to become intermediate life support (ILS) providers at the advanced emergency medical technician (AEMT) level and advanced life support (ALS) providers at the Paramedic level.
Fire chief openings
Oxford is competing for fire chief candidates who may be interested in applying for other current job openings in the state, including in Lewiston and Long Island. Both Long Island and Lewiston run fire/rescue services and at least one – Lewiston – is also requiring EMS certification.
According to the job description in Long Island, an island in Casco Bay, that job involves the administration and supervision of all fire and emergency medical operations for the town.
“Work involves developing and administering the annual operating budget for the Fire/Rescue Department, including the approval of all expenditures. Work also involves the responsibility for planning, organizing, implementing, and evaluating fire and rescue services for the community,” according to the job description.
“Work also includes the efficient operation of the department by the proper supervision, discipline, hiring and training of all Department personnel. Develop and implement policies and procedures and have over all command of all emergency Fire and Emergency Medical incidents within the Town of Long Island.”
The city of Lewiston will probably be Oxford’s closest competitor for candidates.
In January, Fire Chief Paul M. LeClair was named the Lewiston-Auburn 911 Communications Center director, effective Wednesday, March 1, and he will retire as fire chief. Lewiston is now accepting applications for the position to oversee 68 firefighters and seven staff in the community of about 36,000.
According to the job description, the position requires “a progressive, active, hands-on individual who can lead a career department. Successful applicants will demonstrate strong communication and interpersonal skills and have a broad background in all aspects of service delivery including suppression, EMS, prevention, and inspection.”
Specifically the Lewiston job calls for “a minimum of 10 years progressively responsible fire service experience with five or more years as a command officer (Captain/Shift Officer or above) and a valid operator’s license. Emergency Medical Services EMT-B preferred, and a valid operator’s license.”
Other “desired” qualifications include Fire Officer II training, along with experience in a career department, operating in a union environment, computer literacy in financial systems and office software, and managing and developing budgets. The salary range is $75,504 to $108,264.
Hunter said he hopes the towns of Paris, Norway and Oxford will eventually agree to regionalizing their fire service, perhaps beginning with the overnight shift. [See side bar.]
“I really wish the three towns would get together and look at the situation everyone is under,” Hunter said. “You could save a whole lot of money.”
With 27 pieces of equipment within the three departments costing as much as half-a-million dollars each and a personnel shortage problem, Hunter said regionalization would assure that a fully-staffed trained crew was available for each call.
Geographically, it makes sense and response time would not be impaired, he said.
In Oxford, the Fire Department currently hires per diem/EMT and call firefighters to cover the needs of the fire/rescue department.
Per diem firefighters cover 12-hour shifts, seven days a week, as well as other open shifts as needed. These are nonbenefited/nonsalaried positions. It is a skilled firefighting and emergency medical work job, according to the town’s job description.
Those positions require a firefighter who holds certification as an NFPA 1001 Firefighter I. EMTs are required to hold and maintain a valid Maine EMS license (Paramedic and Advanced EMT preferred) with a minimum of six months active field experience. They must also have a valid CPR card and EVOC certification.
A call company firefighter/EMT on the Oxford Fire Department is a paid call position consisting of firefighting and emergency medical work.
The applications for Oxford fire chief are due back to the town by March 1.
Town managers meet
Town managers from area towns – reportedly Oxford, Paris and Poland – met recently to discuss fire and EMS coverage in their towns.
Oxford Town Manager Becky Lippincott was asked recently by Oxford Selectman Scott Hunter, who serves as Paris fire chief, to contact the towns of Poland, Paris and Norway to set up the meeting. She said she was able to make contact with only Poland and Paris.
Although circumspect and chary with details, Paris Town Manager Vic Hodgkins said, “I can confirm that a conversation has taken place with a few area town managers.”
However, Norway Town Manager David Holt said he has not met with other managers regarding this.
“The Oxford town manager [Becky Lippincott] came by but I wasn’t here … I think she talked with Dennis [Yates].”
Norway Fire Chief Dennis Yates said, “This came up before – about six months ago – and Norway wasn’t interested at the time … I don’t think it’s going to work.”
Yates declined further comment to both Lippincott and the Advertiser Democrat, noting it was not his place but the town manager’s place to comment.
Lippincott said no decisions have been made at this time.