WISCASSET, Maine — The Wiscasset Fire Department is preparing a petition to bring the question of whether volunteer firefighters can wash their personal vehicles at the station to a townwide vote. While the language on the petition is still in development, community members are already calling the fire station to ask where they can sign, Fire Chief T.J. Merry said.
The petition will hopefully be ready to circulate by next week, and the 179 signatures needed to bring the issue before the town for a vote will not take long for the department to collect, Merry said. Once collected, the department will ask for a special town meeting to avoid waiting until the election in November, he said.
The controversy surrounding a long-standing Wiscasset Fire Department tradition of members washing their personal vehicles at the station first erupted at a Wiscasset Board of Selectmen meeting in April. The department had been informed by Town Manager Marian Anderson about a month prior that the practice was a violation of town policy.
Merry was hopeful selectmen would vote to override town policy and allow the tradition to continue. In a split vote, which has been revisited about four times by the board, a motion to override the town policy and allow firefighters to wash their personal vehicles was defeated 3-2.
According to the advice of the town attorney and the town’s insurance provider, the practice of washing personal vehicles at the station created liability issues for the town and opened the town up to a potential claim if a firefighter was injured while washing his or her vehicle.
The practice of washing personal vehicles at the station dates back decades, Merry said. The tradition helped build camaraderie among the crew and kept volunteer firefighters at the station, ensuring a quick response if an emergency call came in.
Town officials have said there is no record of an insurance claim or an injury that has resulted from firefighters washing their personal vehicles at the station.
Merry said the lack of support from the board of selectmen has been disappointing, but Selectman Ben Rines suggested that the fire department circulate a petition to bring the issue before the town, and
Selectman Jeff Slack has said he plans to sign it, Merry said.