Monday, July 8, 2013

100 years of collaboration celebrated by South Windham Fire Company by Elizabeth Richards

One-hundred years of community collaboration was marked on Tuesday, June 25, as former and current members of the South Windham Fire Department came together to celebrate 100 years of continuous operation. The company, founded in 1913 as the South Windham Fire Department, was the first fire company in Windham.

The South Windham Fire Company, as it is called today, is unique in that it is a joint company that serves both the towns of Gorham and Windham, according to a press release issued by the company. Community members, who are on call respond from their homes to staff the company. They have always been staffed with people from both sides of the river, says Ernest L. Nichols, former deputy chief of the Windham Fire Department. Nichols spent the winter of 2004 doing a history of the station, compiling enough history to fill three newspapers, he joked.

The collaboration between the two towns has created a unique situation, which Nichols said has drawn comment at times. He recounted a story of a time when someone said to him “I thought you were a Windham fireman?”  When he replied that he was, the man responded that the truck he was on said Gorham. Nichols stated that he was a Gorham fireman, too. He said, “That might sound funny, but it’s true in South Windham.” 

The costs are shared between the two communities. Nichols said that the payroll and workman’s comp are paid by the community that the call comes from. Other costs, including maintenance and upkeep of the building, training, and protective gear are shared by the two towns.   In 2003, the communities split the cost of Tower 3, a 2001 Emergency One 95-foot aerial platform quint truck, with a price tag of $700,000. Without the collaboration, this piece of specialized equipment might have been out of reach. The South Windham Fire Company building has also houses trucks from both Gorham and Windham.

Nichols said that consolidation is often talked about as a way to share costs and realize savings. The South Windham Fire Company has done just that for the past 100 years. “It’s different, but it does work,” he said. “When I was coming up through the ranks, I was just as much a captain in Gorham as I was in Windham. They recognized both,” he said.

The celebration, held at the Robie School at Little Falls, was put together by members of the company, and was an excellent event, according to Nichols. The evening featured a meal and program with Deputy Chief Poitras as the MC, and several speakers, including Nichols. He described attendance as a “very good crowd,” including former and current members of the company. Members in attendance were given t-shirts with an old company photo on the back and the 100-year emblem on the front, as well as a coin which had pictures of past trucks on one side, and pictures of current trucks on the other. He added that Gorham Chief Robert Lefebvre spoke about how many people who belonged to the company had gone on further in the fire business. “We have quite a line of them,” said Nichols, citing that both Chief Hammond and Chief Lefebvre are members of the South Windham Fire Company.

The evening was a great tribute to community collaboration and service. The press release expressed the sentiment best, stating, “South Windham Fire Company is a true model of communities working together to provide the best service possible to the communities. South Windham Fire Company is looking forward to another 100 years of joint community service.”

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