Town to create single fire department

Colchester’s second and third fire districts will transfer fire protection services over to the town, consolidating into a single department under one town-wide chief.

Starting next summer, Colchester’s second and third fire districts will transfer fire protection services over to the town, consolidating into a single department under one town-wide chief.

Call volumes for both Malletts Bay Fire Department (MBFD) and Colchester Center Volunteer Fire Company (CCVFC) have creeped higher and higher over the last ten years. Both departments have requested to hire more full-time firefighters, but the selectboard has held out in hopes of receiving federal funding.

To better accommodate the changing fire services landscape, the selectboard proposed two different solutions earlier this year: merge into one department or transfer services over to the town. MBFD and CCVFC both voted to transfer services to the town, effective July 1, 2020.

According to a report from Town Manager Aaron Frank, fire services represent the third largest area of expenditure for the town, making up about 10 percent of the town property tax budget. The overall cost for fire services has escalated at 5.6 percent annually over the last ten years, including costs paid by the town to the fire districts.

Frank told the Sun in a previous article that both proposed options would improve overall efficiency and streamline services, including training, capital planning and equipment, maintenance, the dispatch process, and fire prevention.

At the Sept. 9 selectboard meeting, Frank told the board that he hoped to begin the process of hiring Colchester’s first fire chief responsible for protection across the entire town via a statewide search next month.

According to Frank, since the two departments voted in July, the game plan for this year has been relatively fleshed out. The new chief, a town department head, will refine this outline and then implement it prior to taking over the new department next July.

At the meeting, selectboard member Jacki Murphy acknowledged the importance of maintaining MBFD and CCVFC’s identities through the transfer. “I think it’s important to note that you want to retain the history of the three organizations,” she said.

Frank echoed this, noting that the departments have a “very strong family of allegiance,” and that maintaining the volunteer aspect within both departments is also crucial.