by Nancy Shack, WBZ NewsRadio1030
THORNDIKE, Maine (WBZ NewsRadio) — Nearly every member of the Thorndike, Maine Fire Department quit Wednesday night after a contentious town Select Board meeting.
The volunteer department is comprised of 28 members and is not run by the town. It is an association where firefighters vote for the chief and other officers, while town officials have control over funding and have veto power over the chief.
At the meeting, the association wanted two things from town officials: the reinstatement of firefighter George Russell, the former chief, and the release of $85,000 from the department’s truck and equipment replacement fund. They got neither.
The crisis started with a letter sent by Waldo County emergency response officials to the Thorndike Select Board setting out safety concerns and leadership problems with Russell, who had stepped down to the assistant position after admitting he stole $5,000 from the department in 2014.
The ultimatum cited Russell's "criminal history and lack of leadership." The officials also said that the town's mutual aid partner communities were concerned as well. Russell immediately resigned.
The rest of the department stayed and demanded he be re-instated as a fireman—and that their 30-year-old fire truck with 500,000 miles on it be replaced and their $30,000 annual budget be increased.
When the board remained intransigent, the membership handed a resignation letter to them, saying personnel would be leaving the fire station immediately “due to outdated and unsafe equipment that the town of Thorndike [the Selectmen] refuse to replace putting not only the firefighters’ lives at risk but the public as well.”
The lone remaining member of the Thorndike Fire Department is a firefighter and emergency medical technician.
The town says it still has those mutual aid agreements with other communities in case of emergencies.