NORRIDGEWOCK — The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously Wednesday to authorize an application for a federal grant that would help pay for the town’s first full-time firefighters for a period of three years.

“I think it would be foolish not to do this,” Selectman Matthew Everett said. “I think there are some unforeseen savings in this through the part-time costs. I think you’ll see a little bit of a drop there unless there are more calls.”

The board voted 4-0 to authorize the grant application. Selectman Josh Chartrand was absent.

The vote Wednesday means the town can move ahead in applying for the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or SAFER, grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The town has until March 22 to apply for the grant, which would pay 75 percent of the annual cost of two full-time firefighters for two years and 35 percent of the cost in the third year. The town has estimated the cost of the two firefighters at $100,000 in the first year including wages, benefits and health insurance for entry-level positions.

Currently, the fire department is staffed by part-time firefighters who are paid per call and as of 2018 had a roster of 18 firefighters. A total of 186 calls for service were responded to in 2018.

In a straw poll Monday night at the annual Town Meeting, residents overwhelmingly showed support for the grant, which if approved would make funding available for 2020.

But Chair of the Board of Selectmen Ron Frederick said he heard from some residents after the meeting that they were unaware the item — which was scheduled for discussion and was not on the Town Meeting warrant — was going to be voted on.

Town Manager Richard LaBelle said he understood the concern, but there was no time to get the item on the warrant. He said the straw poll vote was a good way to get feedback from residents on how they felt about the grant and the possibility of adding full-time firefighters.

“There were only 30 people there, but everybody had the opportunity to be there,” Frederick said. “I can’t see the vote changing had the whole town been there, as far as the outcome of it.”

Captain Todd Pineo of the Norridgewock Fire Department, the only representative of the department at Wednesday’s meeting, said there would also be an opportunity for voters to weigh in on the grant again at the 2020 town meeting. If approved, the town would find out about the grant funding in September and the program would be introduced in March 2020.

At Monday’s town meeting, LaBelle said the total budget for the fire department would likely go up to $126,000 in 2020 if the grant is approved, from the current $105,272. After the third year of the grant, the town would have to choose if it wants to continue funding the positions on its own.

Firefighter Aaron Gordon, who spoke at Monday’s town meeting, urged the town to support the addition of full-time firefighters, saying changes in the willingness of employers to allow firefighters to leave to answer calls, millennials being less likely to volunteer and increased training demands all fuel the need for full-time firefighters.

“It’s nothing for two guys for year one and year two,” Everett said. “It’s a great way to try it.”

In other news Wednesday, selectmen appointed Frederick as chair of the board and Selectman Jim Lyman as vice chair.

 

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368
[email protected]
Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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