Augusta Fire Chief Dave Groder hauls a hose to help extinguish a fire that burned a farm in Pittston in April 2022. The Augusta department was recently awarded nearly $2.5 million in federal grants to add eight firefighter medics to the city’s rescue crews, if approved by councilors. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal file

AUGUSTA — The city will get nearly $2.5 million in federal grant funds to hire eight new firefighter/paramedics.

Now it just has to find them.

With firefighters and paramedics in short supply and in great demand statewide, the city has loosened its minimum requirements to be hired as a firefighter and ambulance rescue worker, in hopes that it will help attract more applicants from the limited labor pool.

To be considered for such a job in Augusta, applicants must be certified as at least advanced emergency medical technicians, but they no longer have to be certified as paramedics before landing the position. The city has agreed to now pay for the approximately yearlong training for new hires to become certified paramedics. Augusta’s rescue crews work as both firefighters and paramedics on ambulances.

“It’s an opportunity, if somebody wants to be a medic, to get that training,” Fire Chief David Groder said.

Groder said he’s not sure how hard it will be to find eight new firefighter/paramedics to hire, but said the department has already been getting some calls from potential applicants who heard the city would be adding rescue workers. He said the last contract negotiated for them increased their pay, and department morale is good especially since the city also recently hired eight additional firefighters to help share the workload.


“Our members are reaching out to other (firefighters) they know and saying the pay is good, the schedule is good, the call volume is there,” Groder said of reaching out to find new firefighters to join the department.

Last January, Groder raised concerns that the city’s fire department was so under-staffed it could jeopardize the safety of the public and potentially prompt overworked firefighters, some of whom were required to work extensive mandatory overtime, to leave the department.

Since then, city councilors agreed to hire eight additional firefighter medics, increasing staffing from 12 per shift to 14 per shift, Groder said .

Funding of $476,000 for eight new firefighter medic positions was included in this year’s $80 million city and school budget approved by city councilors in June.

Groder said the additional eight firefighters being hired has decreased the number of “order-ins” for mandatory overtime to almost none and brought department overtime way down from before.

The eight proposed new positions to be funded with the federal grant funds would be in addition to the eight recent hires. City councilors would have to approve the new positions and are expected to consider the proposal at their Sept. 21 meeting.


If approved, Groder said the federal funds would cover the cost of adding two more firefighter medics to each shift, for a total of 16 per shift. He said that would give the department some much-needed depth and allow for a firefighter to take a day off without bringing in another firefighter, on overtime, to cover that position.

The federal grant does not require a local match but runs out in three years, after which it would be on the city to pay the firefighters if it wishes to keep the positions.

Between salary, benefits and training, each position would cost the city about $108,000.

Maine’s U.S. senators, Susan Collins and Angus King, announced the Staffing for Adequate Fire Emergency Response, or SAFER, grant award to Augusta on Wednesday, as well as $71,000 in funding for the Farmington Fire Department to purchase a new breathing air compressor and fill station, and $126,000 for the Stoneham Rescue Service to purchase a new power cot and lift systems.

“Supporting the effectiveness of Maine’s first responders is crucial to the overall health and safety of our communities,” the senators said in a joint news release. “This funding for emergency services in Farmington, Stoneham and Augusta will help to enhance the departments’ capabilities and better ensure the well-being of those who bravely serve and protect the people of Maine.”

Groder said the department may also be able to get a couple of former firefighters, who left the department after not being willing to receive COVID-19 vaccinations, to rejoin the department under a proposal now under review by Maine EMS to remove its COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

In July, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services proposed the COVID-19 vaccine be removed from the list of required immunizations for health care workers. However, EMS workers are regulated separately from other health care employees by Maine’s Board of Emergency Medical Services.

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