The Monroe Volunteer Fire Department expects to be able to replace two of its vehicles thanks to a $182,733 federal Assistance to Firefighters Grant.

As of Feb. 13, Fire Chief Ken Clements said he was still shopping around but planned to buy a newly-built combination pumper/tanker. The vehicle would replace a 1989 tanker truck and a 1975 attack pumper, the usable parts of which would be sold, he said.

Two other Maine towns received AFG grants this year, Andover ($146,300 for Operations and Safety) and Fayette ($270,750 for Vehicle Replacement).

The grant to Monroe comes shortly after a six-month battle in nearby Freedom over the purchase of a new truck, but it would probably be leaping to conclusions to compare the two towns.

Monroe’s primary attack pumper was bought new in 2004 with roughly a third of the $170,000 price tag coming from savings and the rest financed. Freedom, by contrast, initially planned to put $100,000 down on a new truck that was anticipated to cost $250,000.

The issue in Freedom was that some residents believed the town could get by with a less-expensive, used truck. There was also concern about the private financing rates the town would have paid because its audits weren’t up to date, making the town ineligible for municipal lending rates.

During the sometimes heated debates in Freedom, Clements got a call from someone in that town.

“They said, ‘You’re the fire chief in Monroe, what do you think?'” he said. “I said, ‘I don’t want to get involved in this.'”

After several redo votes, Freedom settled on a used truck that cost about half of what was budgeted. It also held less water than the fire department had hoped for.

Keith Neally, Monroe’s assistant fire chief, wrote the successful grant application and was quick to point out what happened in Freedom, with an implied sigh of relief that his town didn’t go through the same struggles over buying a new vehicle.

Getting the grant, of course, was key. And Neally said winning the grant lottery involves more than just the luck of the draw.

“I won’t say it’s a knack, but there’s certain information you can provide,” he said. “… We’ve had good luck. In ’03 we got a grant and in ’04 we got a grant. Of course we’ve had a long dry spell.”

Neally said the department is seeking volunteer firefighters, but has had trouble attracting interest, in part because the department, which handled roughly 50 calls last year, has been out of the public eye.

“If you have a lot of house fires, that’s one thing,” he said.

Clements described a similar issue with equipment, especially tankers, which sit for indefinite periods filled with water. In the case of the department’s 1989 tanker, the reservoir was patched at one point and currently shows signs of rust on a seam at the top of the truck.

“It’s like insurance,” he said. “You buy it, you maintain it and you hope you never have to use it. Because if you use it, it means somebody’s property is burning up.”