The local fire department has sounded the warning bell in a call for more volunteers to become firefighters.

If a major disaster struck the area, local fire departments would have a difficult time responding because of personnel shortages, said Owls Head Fire Chief Frank Ross.

"The one time we had a tornado or a hurricane, we'd be short-handed, and everybody would be short-handed, because we all work together for different departments," the chief said at a Feb. 25 fire department meeting.

"A lot of the departments are interconnected," Ross said. "Sometimes, we'll train with other departments. Recently South Thomaston had a house to burn for training, and we took part in that."

While the local fire department is considered a volunteer group, firefighters do get paid for fire and training calls, Ross said.

Otherwise, attendance is low. About five or six people show up for monthly meetings, Ross said.

"We need 15 to fight a structural fire," he said. "Of the people who show up, there's a percentage who can't go into a burning building and fight a fire."

"At one time, we had 38 people in the fire department," Ross said.

"We call for mutual aid [from other departments]," said Deputy Chief Bruce Colson. "It gets to the point where you can't effectively drill," he added.

"We want to protect what we have in our town first," Colson added.

Local firefighters got plenty of help to fight the Feb. 10 Frankie's Garage fire on Route 73 in Owls Head. Ross said 46 firefighters showed up from Rockland and South Thomaston to fight the blaze, which leveled the building.

"We had the manpower there," Ross said. "Water was the problem. We didn't have enough water."

The Owls Head Fire Department has launched a recruitment campaign for more volunteers.

The department has four trucks and a boat for rescue and mutual aid with Rockland and South Thomaston. Owls Head has a separate mutual aid agreement with St. George for the use of a tanker.

Lt. Steve Hallett said he was 48 years old when he joined the department.

"We had a member who was 86 when I joined," he said, "and he still went into burning buildings."

Ross called on local businesses to pitch in and help.

"Times are tough," he said. "Service clubs like Masons, Kiwanis and Rotary are short-handed, too," he said.

"So many families are working double jobs," he said.

While fire departments have traditionally been "men's clubs," that's no longer the case, he said. Many of the local departments have women firefighters.

Also, Owls Head has sought to attract young people to the department to teach them the skills they would need.

"We have two young people," he said.

Ross suggested that state and federal agencies could help with recruitment, and could offer tax incentives to volunteer firefighters.

"We had a retirement plan, but it was never funded," he said.

Hallett said recruitment will take education to bring to the fore the need for firefighters.

The department is made up of three firefighting squads and one fire police squad.

Colson, Lt. Jim Philbrook, David Ross, Adam Lombardo, and Justin Philbrook make up Squad 1; Assistant Chief Dan Pierce, Hallett, Aaron Danforth, Tim Sternberg, Ken Elwell and Micah Philbrook make up Squad 2; and Lt. Mike Root, Adam Philbrook, McCabe Burch, Eliot Scott, and Chris Condon make up Squad 3.

The Fire Police Squad, responsible for directing traffic at fires, consists of Andy York and John Gamage. May Grant is the company treasurer.

Business meetings of the department are held the first Monday of each month at 6:30  p.m.; drills are conducted on the third Monday at 6:30. Active members are encouraged to attend training session, as required by law and for their own safety.

Ross said anyone interested in becoming a firefighter may call him at 594-4076, or get in touch with any member of the department.

Courier Publications reporter George Chappell can be reached at 207-594-4401, ext. 117, or at