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Inmates to restore Otisfield's first firetruck
ENGINE ONE — Otisfield's first firetruck, a 1938 Chevrolet, 500-gallon pumper, shown here, is slated to be restored by pre-release prisoners at the Bolduc Correctional Facility in Warren.
OTISFIELD — In the coming weeks, Otisfield's first firetruck will be shipped to Bolduc Correctional Facility in Warren to be restored by pre-release prisoners, said selectman and long-time firefighter, Lenny Adler, at a selectmen meeting in April.
The town's 1938 Chevrolet, which once pumped 500 gallons of water per minute, was bought used by the Firemen's Association from the town for only $1, Adler said.
Now it's just too small and too old to do the job, he said.
According to Adler, the Otisfield Firemen's Association decided to have its first truck restored after hearing about the excellent work the facility did to recondition Harrison's first engine – a 1927 Dodge.
"They did a beautiful job," Adler said, of the inmates. "As good as any restoration company."
Harrison's town manager, George "Bud" Finch, agreed. From his knowledge, he said, the inmates in Warren do a lot of high-quality restoration and for an affordable price.
Richard Sykes, a retired high school principal, Harrison firefighter and a former state representative on the criminal justice and public safety committee, learned about the auto body program and was able to get Harrison's old truck on the list to be restored.
"They did an absolute, first-rate, fantastic, great job," Sykes said, of the work that took nearly a year to finish. He said that without the inmates' hard work, restoring the truck was a project that Harrison may have never been able to see come to fruition, mainly because of the cost.
"The auto body work is unbelievable," Sykes said. According to Sykes, restoration work done by the inmates cost the town less than $2,000. To have it done elsewhere, he said, it could cost anywhere between $10,000 to $15,000.
Harrison's truck is mainly showcased in town parades and used during Old Home Days, Sykes said. "It's a classy-looking piece of equipment," he said.
Adler said he does not know the exact date the Association purchased Otisfield's truck, but knows from experience that it has battled many fires since he first personally drove it.
Like Harrison's truck, it hasn't been used to fight fires for years. It has solely been used in town parades, Adler explained.
Adler said he anticipates the work to take one to two years to complete. The auto body shop at Bolduc Correctional Facility in Warren is run by Brad Davis, a vocational trades instructor.
Ben Beal, acting deputy warden of the Bolduc Correctional Facility, said a crew of eight to 10 inmates will work on getting the truck restored, five days a week, for the next year or so.
"They take guys with zero skills in auto body, and the instructor teaches them all facets of autobody," in a classroom environment, Beal explained.
"They work and learn as they go," he said. "They learn about chemical safety, PPE [personal protective equipment] safety, ergonomic safety and building the truck, as well."
The inmates don't get paid for the work either, Beal said. He explained they receive educational credit for participating in the program, and restoration work is not just limited to firetrucks – inmates work on different types of vehicles, sometimes three at a time.
Bolduc inmates currently in the auto body shop program are working to restore a 1947 Ford pickup truck, a 1967 Ford Mustang and a Jeep Wrangler, Beal said, though he didn't know the age.
The work done by the inmates is complete frame-off restoration, he said, which includes disassembling the entire vehicle and rebuilding it from the ground up, replacing any broken, worn out or weathered parts both on the vehicle's interior and exterior.
"It's a hands-on ... environment," Beal said, but inmates also complete textbook work. He called the program an "internal motivator" for inmates.
"It might help them get a job when they get back out in the community," he said.
According to Beal, the auto body program at the Bolduc facility has been active for nearly 20 years and is just one of many other programs offered to the inmates. Other vocational programs include building trades, culinary arts, plumbing, heating and electrical trades, he said.
"They do unbelievable work with very limited resources," Beal explained of the programs at Bolduc, the auto body repair program in particular. The facility also offers an auto mechanic program, which hones in on engine repair, from tune-ups to overhauls, and maintenance work including alignment.
"The instructor is incredible," he said. "He teaches these guys how to use borderline archaic tools ... non-pneumatic, the way you should learn ... He teaches them how to do stuff manually; no computer work, no power tools. It's all redone by hand."
At Bolduc, Beal said, it's not just the vehicles that shine when all is said and done.
"It promotes a really good work ethic and a sense of pride in the inmates," Beal said.
Adler said Otisfield has been on a waiting list for two years to have its truck restored by the prisoners in Warren. After seeing Harrison's truck, he said, he is excited to see Otisfield's truck come back to life.
"They're ready for it," Adler said.
Edited on May 30 to say the Otisfield Firemen's Association bought the 1938 Chevrolet used from the town for only $1.