Chairman: Elimination of per diem FFs may have contributed to boy's death in Maine house fire

"I'm not pointing any fingers, but we're not done with this topic," Paris Board of Selectmen Chairman Christopher Summers said of the voters' decision


Steve Sherlock
Sun Journal, Lewiston, Maine

PARIS, Maine — Board of Selectmen Chairman Christopher Summers said a decision by voters four years ago to eliminate the Fire Department's per diem firefighters may have contributed to the death of a 5-year-old boy last week.

A.J. Packard died Nov. 2 in a house fire at 31 Nichol St. Summers said the home was within half a mile of the fire station on Western Avenue.

Summers made his comments during Monday's board meeting.

"The town of Paris is responsible for going ahead and providing adequate services to the town," Summers said. "Through a vote that was cast four years ago, we got rid of our per diems. This last week, that put our chief, my son, who isn't even a firefighter in this town, and a number of other individuals from local fire departments in a very difficult position where they couldn't enter the house because they did not have the personnel necessary to go in and do the proper search that might or might not have saved that kid's life.

"I'm not pointing any fingers, but we're not done with this topic," he added.

Summers said he did not know how best to fix the situation or if the per diem model would be the best solution, but he has talked with Town Manager Dawn Noyes about his concerns.

"We are going to take a look at what it would take to go ahead and put two people who are properly trained in some sort of role so this type of situation does not happen again," Summers said. "That said, if the voters of Paris want to go ahead and kill it again, they have that right, but this town is going to try and give the best service possible to each and every citizen of this town, and that did not happen this last week.

"There's a lot to be investigated, there's a lot to be talked about," he added. "We've even thrown out the idea of going ahead and coming up with something in conjunction with Norway and Oxford so at least there are two people trained that can respond to a situation in any one of our three towns."

Town Clerk Elizabeth Knox said taxpayers would likely not be in favor of returning to the per diem model.

In other business, the board agreed to sell its old pumper truck to Sumner for $15,000, with payments of $5,000 annually the next three years.

The board agreed to spend $7,360.55 to replace the doors at the Town Office to improve security and provide electric openers for wheelchairs.

After accepting more than $272,000 for half of the allotment from the federal coronavirus relief bill, the board approved a bid from W.H. Demmons of Portland to upgrade the HVAC system in the fire station with $6,450.

Noyes noted she has started working with department heads on their requests for the 2022-23 municipal budget. She also noted the new police cruisers will be getting their lettering done next week. Some board members have criticized the department for the delay in getting the vehicles marked as police vehicles.

Complaining that the matter was tabled for too long, Selectman Peter Kilgore proposed that the Town Office close 30 minutes a day for lunch, which the board approved. The staff will determine what time works best.

The board approved the renewal of the liquor license for Doe's at 183 Park St.

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(c)2021 the Sun Journal (Lewiston, Maine)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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