Fire/EMS merger alters facility plans 



MOUNT DESERT — If the functions of the Northeast Harbor Ambulance Service are folded into the town’s fire department, there will need to be significant staffing and facility changes, Town Manager Durlin Lunt told the Board of Selectmen on Monday. 

Ambulance service officials last month asked the town to assume EMS responsibilities by Jan. 1, 2023.  Lunt, along with Fire Chief Mike Bender and Police Chief Jim Willis, met last Thursday with Basil Mahaney, service chief for the ambulance service, to begin discussing the transition. 

“It was the consensus of the group that the fire department was better suited to take over the equipment and operations of the ambulance service,” Lunt said in a memo to the selectmen.  

“Quite early into the discussion it became obvious that if we were to have a successful operational integration there should be a physical presence of a Fire/EMS crew in the greater Somesville area. The Northeast Harbor Ambulance Service responds to many calls in that area.  

“This has ramifications concerning the proposed addition to the Northeast Harbor fire station. The concept that you have been reviewing assumes housing all the fire/EMS personnel in Northeast Harbor.  

Lunt said the new plan calls for housing a crew of two firefighters and two EMTs in Somesville and the same size crew in Northeast Harbor. 

That change, Lunt said, would allow the proposed addition to the Northeast Harbor fire station to be reduced from six bunk rooms to four, along with some other modifications. The estimated cost of the addition would drop from at least $5 million to around $2.5 million. 

However, a significant renovation othe Somesville fire station would be required. 

“Although we do not have any solid cost estimates at the present, it is likely that the total cost of both projects would exceed the [$5 million] cost of the stand-alone project at the Northeast Harbor station,” Lunt said. 

“The benefit is that we would have a significant reduction in response time for both fire and EMS calls in the western area of Mount Desert that is becoming our population center.” 

Selectman Martha Dudman said, “I really think this revised plan makes a lot of sense becausewe’ve got a big town, and when there’s an emergency, adding that extra distance from Northeast Harbor to help someone might make a huge difference, a matter of life and death in some cases. So, I think it’s great that we’re talking about having a functioning outpost in the western part of the town. 

Selectman Matt Hart agreed, saying the revised plan “is going to result in a better outcome for the residents of the town of Mount Desert.” 

Three weeks ago, the selectmen agreed to ask voters at the May Town Meeting to authorize spending $357,500 for engineering and other services related to planning the addition to the Northeast Harbor fire station. It is now too late to amend that warrant article to include funds for planning the Somesville fire station renovation. 

The selectmen tentatively and informally agreed to hold a special town meeting in November to authorize funding for design and engineering services for the Somesville fire station project. 

“We’re going to have to take a hard look at the [Somesville] building and see if it is going to be feasible to renovate that to make it habitable for 24/7 crews,” Bender said. 

“The biggest thing everybody needs to remember…is that we can’t start the Northeast Harbor project and then later on say, ‘Let’s not do Somesville.’ This is all tied together.” 

If voters at separate town meetings this year were to approve engineering and design funding for both projects, then voters at the 2022 Town Meeting could be asked to authorize spending for the actual construction of the two projects. 

“I think the faster you could do the two projects, whether together or one right after the other, the better for the town, to provide a better service in that [western] area that has traditionally been a little bit underserved,” Mahaney said. 

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]

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