Board questions fire chief's response protocol

By Beth A. Birmingham | Aug 20, 2019
Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham Deputy Fire Chief Donald Pierce, left, and Fire Chief Frank Ross listen to questions from the Owls Head Board of Selectmen Aug. 19 regarding their call response protocol.

Owls Head — Owls Head Fire Chief Frank Ross was asked to come up with a set of standard operating procedures by the Board of Selectmen Aug. 19 after concerns over protocol had two firefighters thinking of leaving the force.

Selectman Gordon Page said the concerns were brought to his attention and deal specifically with protective turnout gear and when it is to be used.

He asked Ross what the proper procedure is with regard to chief officers responding to a call. Ross responded, "it is as required," and noted it all depends on the call.

He added that normally the chief in charge responds to the scene and evaluates the situation. "If it's a structure fire, you back out and get your gear on," he said. "You don't know there's a fire yet until you get there," he told Page.

"Wouldn't it be more efficient to approach that situation fully geared?" Page asked.

Chairman Tom Von Malder added that it would make more sense to be fully geared up when evaluating the situation, especially if there were to be someone trapped inside, instead of having to go back out and gear up.

"Generally, the chief officers are going to be on scene before the backup units," Deputy Fire Chief Donald Pierce said, explaining that then they can notify dispatch of the situation and get more proper equipment en route.

He added that, even if they were geared up, they do not carry air packs in their personal vehicles, so they're not going into the building alone, anyway.

In the instance of an alarm investigation, Pierce said the chief officer will go to the door and see if anyone is home and inquire if they know why the alarm went off.

He said firefighters arriving on scene should be in turnout gear and ready when and if needed to fight a fire.

"If you go in a building without protective gear, how does that affect the two-in, two-out rule?" Page asked. "I'm just wondering what the standard operating procedure is. Are you going by the seat of your pants, or is it here's the way we do it?"

"How do you set a leadership role is what I'm getting at," Page continued. "How do you get others to follow the rules of safety when the chiefs don't?"

He said he was trying to determine whether the fire department is well trained and prepared to do the things necessary, and is the leadership setting the tone.

Ross defended himself, saying he believed the determination should be made as to whether or not there is a fire before one gears up. "In 30 seconds you can determine whether it's a structure fire or not a structure fire," he said.

"You gear up as required," Ross said.

Von Malder said the board was simply trying to prevent two firefighters from leaving the force, which has been struggling to get enough volunteers to cover calls.

"Every call is different," Ross said.

Page handed Ross photocopies of recent fire calls handled by the Rockland and Thomaston fire departments, which showed every chief officer geared up -- regardless of the type of call they were responding to.

"I'm wondering why the chief officers of the town of Owls Head do not follow that same protocol," Page said.

Page, a past certified firefighter, went on, "You train the way you fight and fight the way you train, and I can't understand why chief officers of a small town like Owls Head wouldn't gear up. Is there any reason why?"

Von Malder said that from a layman's perspective it would seem to make sense to have the same procedures, no matter what the call.

As for certification, Ross said he and Assistant Fire Chief John Gamage are not certified in self-contained breathing apparatus, but regardless, Ross said, "I'm going to do what's necessary" when it comes to a potential rescue situation.

"This is tough for me," Page said. "This is not easy for me to ask these questions. You know I have some training and I have an affinity for the fire service. As far as I'm concerned, it's still a brotherhood to me."

He went on to say he wanted a fire department that the residents and taxpayers can be proud of and feel they can rely on, and questioned where Owls Head falls in mutual aid calls.

Pierce said both Rockland and Thomaston have moved them up in the call list and said, "So they must have some faith in us."

Regardless of rank, Page said he believed all firefighters should respond to any call in proper protective gear, and the board requested Ross to come up with a standard operating procedure.

Courier Publications reporter Beth A. Birmingham can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 125 or via email at

Board questions fire chief's response protocol
Selectman Linda Post, left, reviews photocopies of recent fires Rockland and Thomaston have responded to, which show their respective chief officers wearing protective gear. Selectman Gordon Page expressed concerns about how Owls Head's chief officers respond to calls -- without protective gear on. (Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham)
Comments (4)
Posted by: Allen Mitchell | Aug 21, 2019 21:27

Think about the 2 - 3 minutes lost by a responsible leader to gear up 1st and then get to the scene 2 -3 minutes later to size up the situation and relate to dispatch the needs of the emergency and let the team know the importance of their response .

Posted by: Francis Mazzeo, Jr. | Aug 21, 2019 12:40

Perspectives above personalities.

Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Aug 20, 2019 14:57

Good for you Gordie. I would hate for my house to be on fire and had to wait for the firemen to gear up.

Mary "Mickey" (Brown) McKeever

Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Aug 20, 2019 14:56

Tough times we live in for anyone in Public Safety and it all lands in the leader's lap. Frank Ross has been faithful to his position for years. Hopefully this can be resolved in a manner that is appreciative of that fact.

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