BELFAST — City Councilors gave Economic Development Director Thomas Kittredge permission Dec. 7 to submit two grants to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for Fire Department equipment. They also hired a new firefighter who has EMT training.

The city hopes to secure the Federal Emergency Management Agency funding for new turnout gear, air packs and a truck, according to Fire Chief Patrick Richards.

It has been more than 20 years since some of the turnout gear was replaced, much longer than the 10-year gear replacement recommended by the National Fire Protection Association, he said. The department follows federal standards, which state that if gear is intact and serviceable, it can be used.

The department has 28 self-contained breathing apparatuses, or air packs, Richards said. Most of them are at least 20 years old. They must be serviced yearly and some are starting to need extra maintenance for parts that are frequently used.

If approved, the department will also use one of the grants to replace a truck that has been in service since 1992, he said. The chief thinks now is a good time to seek the funding. “I think right now it’d be a perfect opportunity to try and capitalize on these three projects and with the help of Mr. Kittredge. Hopefully we can make that happen,” he said.

About $7.7 billion in grant funding has been released to fire departments through this program under three separate categories — operations and safety, vehicle acquisition and regional projects, Kittredge said. The city is applying for grants under the first two categories.

There is $414 million available in the program for the 2021 fiscal year, and it is expected to be distributed via 2,500 awards, he said. Departments and academies can use the funding for critical training and equipment.

Departments must provide a 5% cash match for this grant, Kittredge said. So if the department were to receive a $1 million grant, it would have to provide $50,000 toward that grant. If the department were awarded funds, the cash match would come from the Fire Equipment Capital Reserve Account, which has a current balance of $310,734. Awards will be announced by April 30, 2022.

The city announced a plan to attract more certified emergency workers at a Nov. 18 press conference. It has increased its starting pay to $24 per hour for employees who hold both firefighter training and EMS certifications. The pay raise is part of the city’s three-part initiative to address the emergency service worker shortage. It is also working on offering PERS C3 retirement plans to first responders and revamping its worker schedule to better accommodate first responders.

At the Dec. 7 meeting, the city also approved Kenneth Larrabee to fill a dual position as volunteer firefighter and EMT. Larrabee currently works full-time for Brewer Fire Department, but his schedule with that department gives him enough time off to fill shifts in Belfast as needed, Richards said.

Larrabee has fire and EMS certifications and requires little training, the chief said. He was raised in the Belfast area and hopes to move back someday. Richards hopes Larrabee will consider a career with the Belfast department in the future.

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