EDDINGTON, Maine — Fire Chief Jim Ellis applied for and has been awarded federal Emergency Response Corps funds to hire a firefighter to provide daytime station coverage, but since the funds require a town match, residents must OK the move.
The ERC is a program of Goodwill Industries of Northern New England that provides federal funding for 20 AmeriCorps volunteers throughout northern New England and New York. The funds are funneled through the Maine Commission for Community Service, the agency charged with running the AmeriCorps program in Maine.
A public hearing on Eddington’s acceptance of the funds is planned for 6 tonight, and a special town meeting is scheduled for Oct. 6.
Ellis said the ERC program was created to help address the shortage of volunteers at rural fire departments, and is a win-win for Eddington and the participating firefighter.
“It’s a great deal for the town,” he said.
The program would create an AmeriCorps position at the Fire Department that Ellis would fill with one of his active volunteer firefighters.
“This person is an existing firefighter who we’re going to have working in the Fire Department 40 hours a week to provide daytime station coverage,” the fire chief said.
The firefighter selected also is an emergency medical technician and could respond to accident calls, which account for a majority of the emergency calls, as well as fires, Ellis said.
“They essentially get full-time work and experience,” the fire chief said. “If we hired this person, the direct costs would be approximately $50,000, if you figured in pay, benefits and education award.”
In exchange for the 1,700 hours of work, which would cover an 11-month period, the AmeriCorps position would pay an annual stipend of $11,400 and a $4,725 AmeriCorps education scholarship. Health benefits and workers’ compensation coverage also would be provided.
“They get a pay stipend, an education award and health insurance, and in return the town gets a full-time firefighter,” Ellis said.
In 2003, the Maine Commission for Community Service, the agency charged with running the AmeriCorps program in Maine, awarded the Training Resource Center, a subsidiary of Goodwill, federal grants to create an ERC program in southern Maine. In 2008, the ERC program expanded to fund 20 AmeriCorps positions.
The program does require an $8,500 town match that, if approved, would be taken from the Fire Department’s reserve account, Town Manager Russell Smith said Monday.
“We don’t have to raise it through taxes,” he said.
“After 11 months, when it becomes budget time, we’d have to look at” continuing to fund the position or eliminating it, Smith added later. “The grant doesn’t require us to keep the position.”
The key point is that the ERC program would provide funding to have someone readily available at the fire station, Smith said.
“When somebody is here, and can respond right off the bat, it makes it much easier” to battle beginning fires and address emergency situations, he said. “The last two summers, we’ve had an interim firefighter” who helped to provide coverage.
Ellis, who also is the fire chief for Holden, said that community hired an AmeriCorps firefighter through the ERC program in 2006 and was awarded funding again this year.
In Holden, money set aside for weekend coverage is being used for the required matching funds, so “it’s actually saving us several thousand” dollars in that community, Ellis said. “In Eddington, we don’t budget for station coverage, so the $8,500 has to come out of the reserves.”
The selected AmeriCorps person also would be assigned to work on public fire safety education programs, he said.