The Penobscot Times

Orono Fire Department adds first new shift in more than 50 years

ORONO, Maine — A new, fourth shift was rolled out this past week at the Orono Fire Department, marking its first shift expansion in 54 years. 

This new shift is meant to help distribute the amount of work and hours among more firefighters, Chief Geoffrey Low said Wednesday. Before the shift, Orono crews were working anywhere from 50 hours to more than 100 per week.

“We run very minimal staff on our crews, and overtime and other commitments like training and whatnot was just really killing them,” he said. “It affected home life — they were here too often during the week. And you can start to see the fatigue on the firefighters when I have a firefighter that’s working over 100 hours a week.”

The last shift expansion at the department was in 1967, according to Town Manager Sophie Wilson. 

The first day of the new shift was June 29, changing the cycle from one day on-two days off to one day on-three days off, Low said. 

The move was in part due to the workload firefighters were experiencing, but this new shift also builds out some flexibility in the department’s ability to respond to major incidents, minimizing the number of times mutual aid would be needed. 

“By being able to recall off-duty firefighters and not have them exhausted, we’re able to continue providing Orono firefighters to Orono,” Low said. “Our goal is to use Orono resources for Orono problems as much as possible.” 

Before the four-shift system, Orono had three shifts, made up of five crew members each — a relatively minimal staffing level, Low said. 

“It’s not optimal, but it does meet the needs of the community,” he said. 

With the shift addition, crews will remain at five members, but Low said the department hired three new firefighters to make up some open spots for a total of 20 firefighters. 

While much of the decision to add the new shift was based on providing a high level of service to the community and further ensuring the safety of firefighters, a fourth shift also allows the department to recruit and retain more quality firefighters. 

“If you want to attract good candidates, you have to do things that other people in the market are doing. Everyone else in the area has gone to this schedule of four shifts,” Low said. “For us to be competitive and still be able to pull people in, it was almost necessary for us to move to this system.” 

The new shift will cost the town around $342,435, according to town budget documents. 

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