Presque Isle Fire Department secures grant as council proposes personnel cuts

Posted Dec. 14, 2011, at 6:17 p.m.
Last modified Dec. 14, 2011, at 7:15 p.m.

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — The local fire department, which the City Council resolved on Monday evening would be subjected to personnel cuts in 2013, has received a significant federal grant to make equipment purchases.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins announced Wednesday afternoon that the Department of Homeland Security had awarded the Presque Isle Fire Department a $56,768 grant through its Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program.

“Our career and volunteer firefighters are among our bravest public servants,” Collins said in a written statement. “The Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program is an extremely critical source of funds for our fire and rescue personnel. Since the creation of this program, Maine fire departments have been awarded more than $54 million to help purchase new, used, or refurbished vehicles, and to obtain equipment for firefighting, interoperable communications, chemical detection, and other purposes that are essential to first responders.”

The funding can be used by PIFD for training, equipment, wellness and fitness or modifications to the departments’ facilities.

It was good news for a department discouraged by actions that took place on Monday evening. Despite protest from a significant crowd of residents, the City Council passed a resolve to reduce the full-time staff from four to three people per shift effective in January 2013. The three-man crews would be supplemented with on-call firefighters.

Under current four-man shifts, individual firefighters are trained to operate specific vehicles and equipment. With three-man shifts, however, on call firefighters would have to be trained to operate all trucks and equipment. The resolve also discourages firefighters from having second jobs so they can be available to respond to fires.

The changes were made as part of the council passing the city budget for 2012. The councilors had requested a comprehensive study of the police and fire departments to aid them in making decisions about potential cuts. The study by Municipal Resources Inc., an independent outside firm, reported no staffing issues at the fire station and indicated that personnel levels were within standards. Still, several councilors on Monday night suggested making the cuts.

Although the council voted 5-1 in favor of the resolve that will institute the 2013 changes, a new council will take over in January 2012.

The new council could decide to ignore the resolve calling for the reduction to three-person shifts and instead continue funding the department at the current staffing level.

Fire Chief Darrell White was not immediately available Wednesday to comment on what the department will use the federal assistance grant for. The comprehensive study, however, noted that the department has three pieces of equipment that are each more than 17 years old. Also, if the resolve holds, more training will be mandated of some firefighters.

Collins is the founder and co-chair of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus and helped create the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program. So far this year, fire departments across Maine have received more than $1 million in AFG funding.

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