CARMEL, Maine — After dealing with low numbers of available volunteers for years, the Carmel Fire Department might be able to hire its first full-time firefighters thanks to a hiring grant awarded by FEMA on Wednesday.
Fire Chief Mike Azevedo said if the $87,325 grant is approved by the Carmel Board of Selectmen it could allow the department to respond faster to emergencies during the day and help lower the town’s fire insurance rate. Azevedo said he did not expect selectmen to turn down the grant money.
The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Hiring Grant would allow the department to employ a full-time firefighter who would work 40 hours a week Monday through Friday for two years, Azevedo said.
“And there’s no commitment on the town after two years,” to fund the position the fire chief said.
Azevedo said voters turned down a proposal for the town to fund a full-time firefighter position with a vote of 29-22 in March.
The fire chief said the new position could enable the department to take in a couple student firefighters from Eastern Maine Community College’s Live-In Student Firefighter Program, because the full-time firefighter could serve as a supervisor.
“It would give us coverage at night,” Azevedo said.
Up to this day, the fire chief said the department is run by 25 volunteers, most of whom have full-time jobs, which can be a problem when an emergency hits the town, especially during the day.
“When the pager goes off, you don’t know who’s coming and what their qualifications are,” Azevedo said.
The fire chief said the volunteers get paid on a point system, where their compensation depends on how many emergencies they respond to. A volunteer who responds to a fire call sometimes can be paid as little as $12.
Because of the low pay and big-time commitment to training and other duties, Azevedo said volunteers often opt to work overtime at their full-time jobs to make more money, which is a situation he said he understands.
“The number of volunteers is going down. The amount of time volunteers give is going down,” the fire chief said.
But with the new position, Azevedo said it would provide the department with more security and certainty. It also would cut down the amount of volunteer time needed. As fire chief, Azevedo said he has had to work up to 80 hours a week in some situations. Unlike the other volunteers, the fire chief receives a flat rate stipend of $5,000 a year.
The full-time firefighter also could help with cleaning and maintenance during the day, Azevedo said — something that could take up to three weeks to finish with a volunteer-only staff.
Azevedo said the addition of a full-time firefighter could improve the town’s fire suppression rating, which currently meets the minimum requirements and helps determines the town’s fire insurance rate by the Insurance Services Office.
“We should be able to drop the fire insurance rate for people in town,” the fire chief said.