ELLSWORTH, Maine — With the help of a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the local fire department expects to expand its roster by sometime this fall.
The FEMA grant for $234,476 is expected to fund the positions and related expenses for two years, Deputy Chief Kevin Deprenger said Thursday. The department applied for the FEMA grant in December 2009.
“We’re going to try to fill the vacancies as quick as we can,” he said.
Deprenger said the department usually has three staff firefighters on duty during business hours Monday through Friday. After 5 p.m. each day, and on weekends and holidays, only two firefighters are on duty at a time, he said. The department has a total of 10 firefighters on staff.
With the grant money, which still has to be officially approved by the City Council, the department would have four people on duty each weekday, he said. After 5 p.m., and on weekends and holidays, they would have three people working at a time.
Deprenger said the grant will help offset declines in the department’s volunteer roster. A declining number of volunteers has created staffing problems for many fire departments in Maine and nationwide in recent years.
“Four years ago, we had close to 30 people,” Deprenger said of the department’s volunteer, on-call staff. “Now we’re down to 10 or 12.”
U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, who announced the award Thursday, said in a prepared statement that the grant money is being funded by FEMA’s Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response program. He said the funding will help ensure the department has the manpower it needs to respond quickly and adequately to local emergencies.
“As municipalities face tightening budgets, additional support for first responders becomes more and more critical,” Michaud said in the statement. “SAFER grants provide vital assistance that put more firefighters on the street and keep our communities safe.”