Sawyer Murray, the new Greenville fire chief and Piscataquis County's first full-time fire chief. Credit: Courtesy of Piscataquis County Emergency Management Agency

GREENVILLE, Maine — Greenville’s new fire chief is special. Not because he’s in a family that has served the town in emergency services for multiple generations. Nor because he’s 24 years old.

It’s because Sawyer Murray is the first full-time fire chief for any town in Piscataquis County.

“It’s definitely a feeling of accomplishment,” he said. “At the same time, there’s always in the back of my mind that I’m young. I still have a lot to learn. I want to continue my education.”

Like in a lot of small, rural Maine towns, Murray will still perform multiple municipal roles, including reserve officer for the Greenville Police Department and public safety officer.

Murray first got involved at the fire station as a junior firefighter. At 18 years old, he had completed all the required training to become a regular firefighter, meaning he was certified by the state to wear an air pack and respond to crashes and emergencies, he said.

He joined the department in 2011 and has worked his way up the ranks, most recently serving as captain. He’s taking over as Matt St. Laurent, who was the part-time fire chief for about nine years, is retiring and the town is seeing an uptick in emergency calls.

All fire departments in Piscatquis County are volunteer departments, said Jaeme Duggan, Piscataquis County Emergency Management Agency director. Many fire chiefs get paid a small salary considering the amount of responsibility and time they put into their jobs.

“Most of the towns simply can’t afford a full-time position because of all that [it] entails,” she said, such as benefits and workers’ compensation.

Dover-Foxcroft comes closest to Greenville’s full-time chief position because the fire department has two per diem firefighters and first responders who work Monday through Friday, she said.

Greenville Select Board Chairman Eugene “Geno” Murray, center, congratulates retiring Fire Chief Matthew St. Laurent, left, for his dedication to the department at a meeting Jan. 19, 2022. The board also honored Sawyer Murray, who recently took over as Piscataquis County’s first full-time fire chief. Credit: Courtesy of the Piscataquis County Emergency Management Agency

As he prepared to retire from his role, St. Laurent knew someone needed to oversee the fire department full-time because meeting the Maine Department of Labor’s standards requires a lot of paperwork and planning, he said.

With a volunteer department — there are 20 members and two junior firefighters —  it’s sometimes difficult to find people available to respond to calls in the daytime. Businesses in town are usually reasonable about letting their employees step away if there’s a serious emergency, but it’s tougher when the situation isn’t as severe, such as an alarm activation.

“Murray] can get to the scene and assess the situation and decide if we need the manpower or if he’s good by himself,” St. Laurent said.

The Greenville area has seen an increase in new residents in recent years and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in more emergency calls, St. Laurent said. Since 2018, calls have increased more than 50 percent, he said.

As the new chief, Murray will need to earn his emergency medical technician license within a year. He’s also thinking about pursuing a degree in fire science or something similar, but he hasn’t decided, he said.

Murray wants to explore staffing and finding better ways for firefighters to respond, while still allowing them to work their regular jobs. He serves on a committee that is exploring a public safety building for the town’s fire and police departments.  

During a meeting on Wednesday, the Greenville Select Board honored St. Laurent for his years of commitment to the fire department. Murray earned his new badge, which his mother, Ann, and young niece, Oakley, pinned to his blazer.

Sawyer Murray, right, looks down as his mother, Ann, and niece, Oakley, pin a badge on his blazer, signifying his new role as Greenville’s new full-time fire chief. Retiring Fire Chief Matthew St. Laurent, left, was there to congratulate Murray during the Greenville Select Board meeting on Jan. 19, 2022. Credit: Courtesy of the Piscataquis County Emergency Management Agency

His father — who is chairman of the select board — attended, along with his grandmothers and siblings. Murray’s fiancee, Amy Carrier, and one of his sisters, Whitney Peat, tuned in via Zoom.

Murray’s twin brother, Sam; older brother, Tony; and younger sister, Tiegan, work alongside him at the fire station. His mother was an emergency medical technician, and his father was the first paramedic in Greenville. Murray’s grandfather started the ambulance service at Northern Light C.A. Dean Hospital in Greenville, he said.

“He’s got an air about him,” St. Laurent said. “People will listen to him. He’s dedicated. He’s always looking to learn. And if he doesn’t know, he asks.”