Maine fire chief resigns over town politics, including plan to halt FD growth
As chief, Troy Cailler hired Sabattus' first full-time firefighters, used grants to buy new equipment and secured funds for a new station
By Mark LaFlamme
SABATTUS, Maine — Fire Chief Troy Cailler resigned Tuesday from the position he has held since the spring of 2020.
Cailler, who was able to hire the department's first full-time firefighters in the fall, said his resignation was prompted by a disagreement over current town politics, including a plan to halt growth at the department.
"Due to the recent issues with the town and the drastic change in direction (in which) the town manager and select board would like to see this organization go," Cailler wrote in his resignation letter posted on Facebook, "I can no longer support the changes they want to see. I took the job to be the best we could be and do the right thing always. I do not want to compromise my morals to save my job. So, with that, I thank you for a hell of a ride and for the support, however it is time for me to move on."
In his three years as chief, Cailler made ample use of federal and state grants to hire firefighters and to get the department up to snuff with the latest equipment. He also managed to secure $2 million in federal funding to build a new central station and upgraded the department's badly outdated equipment.
"We have one of the best water rescue boats in the state, maybe even New England," Cailler wrote, in a personal thanks to the residents of Sabattus. "We were able to have a UTV (utility task vehicle) donated to us. We have added a new engine, command vehicle and EMS fly car to our apparatus fleet. We have been so fortunate with all the new equipment we have been able to obtain through the various grants.
"I could not be more proud of where this organization stands currently," Cailler wrote. "We have made so many great improvements over the last three years. We have grown exponentially and now have a waiting list of applicants. Our daytime staffing has grown and proven its worth daily ... We all learned a lot and taught a lot in the hours of trainings we held. But the biggest thing we all did, we all became family, we loved each other and looked after each other."
Cailler had become popular among the citizens of Sabattus, who in reaction to the news of his resignation largely blamed town leadership for his departure.
"This is so unfortunate," one Sabattus woman wrote on Facebook in reaction to Cailler's post. "I applaud you for your hard work, all of the improvements you made and writing a classy resignation. I am sure there is much more to be said. The town manager should be bending over backwards to have you stay. Such a shame."
"Why does this town continue to lose quality leaders every few years?" one local man demanded to know. "I have an idea what it might be. We need change."
"You did a great job," offered another in reaction to Cailler's post. "Unfortunately, you're not a politician."
Others, though, remarked on social media that the town had to slow the progress of the fire department to keep taxes from spiraling out of control.
"The reality is, we do not have a lot of businesses in Sabattus, like some of the surrounding communities to soften the tax blow," wrote man, who has lived in the town for 23 years, "so the property tax burden falls on individual home owners."
Yet some maintain that losing Cailler may cause a snowball effect within the fire department.
A current Sabattus firefighter, who didn't want to be named for fear of retaliation, said that Cailler's leadership was so effective that it drew quality firefighters to the department while other departments struggle to maintain their rosters. Impressed by the opportunities presented by Cailler's management of the department, the firefighter said, firefighters were leaving bigger departments to work in Sabattus.
He also said Cailler's popularity might have been his undoing, suggesting that the chief was pressured to resign by town heads who were threatened by his success.
"I think that they put their egos and personal agendas ahead of what's best for the community," the firefighter said. "I think it's a catastrophic mistake that puts the safety of the citizens of Sabattus at risk."
Like others, the firefighter suspects that the department will start losing staff now that Cailler is gone.
"My guess is that they're going to lose a lot of people," he said.
23 Maine fire departments, EMS agencies receive $3.3M in U.S. grants
“This funding will allow Maine firefighters to acquire updated equipment,” Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King said jointly
Town Manager Timothy Kane said Deputy Fire Chief Rob Gayton has agreed to serve as fire chief on an interim basis until a permanent replacement has been selected.
"We have the utmost confidence in the ability of the Sabattus Fire Department to effectively fulfill its public safety mission during this transition," Kane said.
Cailler started his career as a firefighter in 2008, when he was hired by the Litchfield Fire Department as a junior firefighter at the age of 16. From there, he went to Southern Maine Community College and was a live-in student in Scarborough.
In 2013, during his last year at SMCC, he was hired by the city of Lewiston as a full-time firefighter the same week arson fires destroyed nine downtown buildings. At the same time, Cailler, a native of Litchfield, volunteered with the Litchfield and Scarborough fire departments and has continued to do so over the past seven years.
Once he was hired as the Sabattus chief — at the age of 27 — Cailler hit the ground running, working through the travails of a pandemic to get town business done. Among them was the purchase of a new firetruck to replace the aging 1991 E-One Ford they had been using, and a new command vehicle.
After taking over as chief, Cailler also got busy applying for grants and before the year was done, four of them had come through — Stephen King's foundation provided $10,000 for rope and ice-water rescue, and the department got another boost from an FM Global grant that allowed them to buy a drone, expected to be used during water rescues, wildfires and similar emergencies. Through the grants, Cailler also brought in money to pay for a harness system, bailout kit and gas meters, among other things.
The Sabattus annual Town Meeting is slated for May 24 and will include a proposed $368,000 budget for the Fire Department and EMS services combined. Cailler on Tuesday said he had no problem with the budget — it was internal pressures that prompted him to resign, he said.
Cailler continues to fight fires with the Lewiston Fire Department. He said he intends to focus on that work and to spend more time with his family before deciding his next professional move.
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