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Federal grant beefs up Cumberland fire coverage

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Federal grant beefs up Cumberland fire coverage

CUMBERLAND — Grant funding is no stranger to the Cumberland Fire Department. Since 2000, the department has been awarded $1.3 million of the $2.9 million it's sought.

The most recent grant, awarded in January, will help fund a full-time firefighter/EMT for the next 5 years, allowing the department to phase in municipal funding of the position.

The $108,000 grant comes from the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) program, which awards about $180 million annually to fire departments across the country.

Lt. David St. Clair, a 20-year volunteer, was hired for the position and started last week. His full-time presence will bring the total number of day-time firefighters available to four, moving the town toward National Fire Prevention Association standards for departments that rely on paid and volunteer staffing. 

Because he is also an EMT, currently licensed at the Basic level but training for a more advanced license, St. Clair will also help the on-duty paramedic on rescue calls when he's available. His crosstraining fits with the expected future of the department: the fire and rescue departments are set to merge July 1 under the proposed municipal budget.

The federal grant process is "pretty competitive," according to Battalion Chief
Nathan Schools. Cumberland is one of only two Maine towns
awarded SAFER grants this year. Kennebunk was awarded $427,000 toward
hiring and recruitment last week; other Maine recipients in the last
four years include Yarmouth, Berwick, and Ellsworth.

The SAFER grant was awarded to Cumberland just as a FEMA Assistance to Firefighters grant is being closed out. That grant included $104,000 for upgrades to the West Cumberland station and fitness equipment for both fire stations.

Other grants awarded to the department over the last eight years include $168,000 from the Department of Homeland Security in 2003, which bought gear, and a 2005 grant of $45,000 for a gear washer.

Recent regional grants shared by other local departments include $400,000 toward a vehicle driving simulator and $250,000 toward a shared trailer.

The Cumberland Fire Department spends a lot of time "pounding our heads and shutting our doors to write (grant applications)," Schools said.
While there's always a question of "do we spend the time (and energy)
to write them," he said, their efforts so far have paid off. And at a time when cuts are being made in many departments, including his, Schools said its great to be able to use federal money to offset local tax dollars.

Other federal funds the department hopes to apply for soon would come as part of the federal stimulus package. As part of that package, funds are available for shovel-ready fire department projects.

The department has been busy drafting a proposal for a new Central Fire Station since January, in hopes that federal funding might be awarded to rebuild the current Tuttle Road facility.

"We'll be one hand in a million stuck out there," Schools said, "but that's what we do every time when we write grants ... and we've been pretty lucky."

Sarah Trent can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 108 or strent@theforecaster.net.

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