Funds OK’d for new fire station concept plan

MOUNT DESERT — The town will spend up to $27,000 for a concept plan for the potential construction of a new fire station in Northeast Harbor. 

The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously to approve that expenditure Monday after a somewhat lengthy debate over whether the time is right to be planning such a facility. At the outset, three of the five selectmen said they opposed having a concept plan developed now. 

“I’m not in favor of building a new building at this time,” Selectman Martha Dudman said. “We have talked with the other towns about moving toward an island-wide fire department, and I think that should be our goal. I would like to have an overall plan before I start considering individual parts. 

“Also, right now, we’re living in very uncertain times, and we don’t know where the economy is going. I don’t think this is the time to undertake or even contemplate a big new project.” 

Board members John Macauley and Geoff Wood said they agreed. 

Fire Chief Mike Bender said he is in favor of an island-wide fire department. 

“But right now, I would say there’s not a huge appetite for getting all four fire departments and EMS agencies together on an island-wide basis,” he said. “I think it’s going to have to happen at some point, but it’s probably going to take 10 years. 

And I can tell you right now, you don’t have 10 years of relying on a combination or a volunteer fire department.” 

The reason, Bender said, is that the Mount Desert Fire Department continues to lose volunteers.  

“A majority of people we have right now are getting burned out and they’re aging out,” he said. “And probably within one, two or three years, you’re going to start seeing calls not being responded to at night.” 

He said the fire department will need to hire at least two more full-time firefighters within the next few years to ensure around-the-clock coverage, and that will require a place for firefighters to be housed. 

Even if there is eventually a consolidation of the four MDI fire departments, Bender said, “I can’t see the village of Northeast Harbor, or at least this side of Mount Desert, going without a fire station. You’re still going to have to have trucks (here) and you’re going to have to have people here, too.” 

Town Manager Durlin Lunt agreed with the fire chief. 

We’re going to have to go to 24/7 coverage prior to any consolidation of fire departments, because that is a political process that is going to take a while,” he said. “And we’re going to need to have the capacity to house people.” 

Last fall, the town hired Hedefine Engineering and Design to develop concept plans for expanding the existing fire station. But Bender determined that the two plans the firm presented would not adequately meet his department’s needs. Instead, he recommended that a concept plan be developed for a new building to be located at what is now the wooded knoll across the parking lot from Town Hall. 

Dudman said she is strongly opposed to building at that location. But Public Works Director Tony Smith assured her that the actual site for a new fire station could be chosen later. 

“If the plans are approved for a concept design, that building can be put pretty much anywhere,” he said.   

The board authorized Bender to retain Hedefine to develop a concept plan and cost estimates for a new building to house the Mount Desert Fire Department and Northeast Harbor Ambulance Service. 


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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