The Harpswell Fire and Rescue Planning Committee wants the town to add a third part-time firefighter and establish a $20 minimum wage for the town’s part-time and per diem firefighters.
“We have a staffing difficulty for the per diems,” committee member David Mercier told the Board of Selectmen on Thursday, Dec. 2.
“The competition to bring folks in, in any position, is tight, but particularly firefighters, so in order for us to be competitive and attract per diem firefighters, we feel that we need to raise the minimum wage to $20 per hour,” Mercier said. “We learned that the range in the general region can be anywhere from $15 to $26 an hour.”
Harpswell firefighters currently start at $14.43 to $18.34 per hour, depending on experience and training.
“If the base is going to be $20, we’d have to scale everybody up,” Harpswell Fire Administrator Art Howe said.
The addition of a third part-time firefighter “would result in the majority of the shifts being covered, and it would allow Art much more flexibility in backfilling those empty shifts,” Mercier said.
Harpswell has three independent fire-and-rescue agencies staffed by volunteers: the Cundy’s Harbor Volunteer Fire Department, Harpswell Neck Fire and Rescue, and the Orr’s and Bailey Islands Fire Department. Mercier serves as fire chief with Harpswell Neck Fire and Rescue.
The town supplements those volunteer services with part-time and per diem firefighters on duty from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. every weekday, as well as a paramedic on duty 24/7. The town contracts Mid Coast Hospital to provide paramedics, but hires firefighters itself.
If the town includes the raises in its 2022 budget, now in development, they would take effect upon voter approval at the annual town meeting in March.