2012-08-17 / In the Know

Federal grant funds regional initiatives

By B. Michael Thurlow
Special contributor

In 2008 the Scarborough Fire Department acted as the host department in an application process for a Federal Fire Act Grant to conduct training and build a sprinkler and alarm system trailer that could be shared among multiple departments across the state.

This particular grant process rewards creative regional solutions to problems by allowing multiple departments to apply as a regional group with one department responsible for submitting the application and being the fiduciary agent.

More than 10 years ago the fire chiefs from the mutual aid communities in greater Portland formed what is now formalized as the Metro Fire Chief’s Coalition.

The group consists of Portland, Falmouth, Cumberland, Cape Elizabeth, South Portland, Gorham, Westbrook and Scarborough. The goal of the group was to work on regional solutions and standardized operating procedures so that when we responded to each other’s communities on mutual aid calls, we were operating in a similar manner. Over the years, the group has met monthly and worked on many successful and beneficial projects.

The grant is another one of those success stories. In 2009, the chiefs and partners from Southern Maine Community College received notification that our grant application was approved for $310,257. The federal government contributed 80 percent or $248,205 and the local communities needed to raise the 20 percent local match.

Over the course of the two-year period of performance, we purchased a trailer and had a local sprinkler and alarm systems contractor, Dean and Allyn, construct a portable classroom that rotates between departments so our members can train on these important systems.

Previously we had to go to various commercial buildings that contained these types of systems, but because they were occupied we couldn’t actually flow water or sound alarms. With this innovative simulator we now have mock-ups of all the various types of sprinkler systems in use as well as a working fire alarm system that functions as if it were in an occupied building. The high-quality training we have been able to conduct with these tools has been outstanding.

Due to competitive bidding and the generous donation of many hours of labor and materials by Dean and Allyn, the project came in $141,121 under budget.

A few months ago FEMA contacted us to see if there were other initiatives within the original scope of work that we could do with the remaining money approved in the original grant. The Metro Chiefs devised a four-pronged program to take advantage of the funding and, earlier this week, I was notified that our grant amendment was approved, freeing up another $112,896 in federal funds.

Over the next seven weeks we will be procuring equipment to conduct Candidate Physical Abilities Testing regionally. This is a nationally vetted program/system that has the support of the International Association of Fire Chiefs and the International Association of Fire Fighters to make sure firefighters are physically fit for the job. In the future, we envision conducting periodic CPAT tests that candidates can use to apply for jobs throughout the region rather than have to take separate tests in each community that is hiring.

Additionally we will be procuring a propane fueled car fire simulator that can also be transported from department to department to conduct on-site, hands-on training.

The grant also provided funding for Incident Command Training tools as well as funds to upgrade the curriculum for a number of the fire science courses at SMCC. The upgrades will create more online class materials so call and per-diem firefighters can take college courses at their convenience in a blended format without having to commit to a full semester of classes at the college.

The grants are very competitive and the Metro Chief’s regional approach to problems that all of us face individually is what made the difference and resulted in this significant grant award saving the taxpayers in our communities the full cost of meeting these needs locally.

For more information or with fire department questions, contact Chief Thurlow at mthurl@ci.scarborough.me.us or call 730-4201.

B. Michael Thurlow is fire chief for Scarborough.

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