WASHINGTON — More Portland firefighters will be on the streets and their department’s Heavy Rescue Vehicle will roll once again – at least for two years – with the aid of a $1 million federal grant.

The money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency will enable the Portland Fire Department to hire 12 people, partially filling a 19-person hole created by budget cuts during the past several years, according to Maine lawmakers and fire department officials.

The gain of 12 firefighters will put an additional three people on each shift, boosting the number of Portland firefighters on duty at any given time from 30 to 33, said Fire Chief Frederick LaMontagne.

The grant also returns to action the department’s Heavy Rescue Vehicle, which carries specialized tools, such as the Jaws of Life, for responses to accidents.

With the loss of firefighters, the rescue vehicle sat empty and the tools were spread around the department, said John Brooks, a Portland firefighter who is president of the firefighters’ union Local 740.

“That (heavy rescue) company not being there has been felt,” Brooks said. “To get them back will be great.”

The grant, from FEMA’s Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response program, was announced in late April by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. Collins said the federal aid program for fire and emergency responders has sent more than $55 million to fire and rescue departments in Maine.

Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree, who represents Maine’s 1st District, said in a prepared statement, “The city of Portland has had to make some devastating cuts during the economic downturn and I’m glad they will be able to recoup some of the losses. These are very important jobs for the community.”

Brooks and LaMontagne agreed that it will be important to find ways to pay for the added firefighters and the Heavy Rescue Vehicle when the two years are up and the federal grant has been spent.

“Both the union and management agree on the importance of this vehicle and jointly exploring” how to keep funding those 12 positions, LaMontagne said.

“This is an opportunity for labor and management to get together and try to be creative,” Brooks said. “The key is, can we keep it going after those two years?”

The new firefighters will be hired this summer and are expected to be on duty by December, LaMontagne said.

 

MaineToday Media Washington Bureau Chief Jonathan Riskind can be contacted at 791-6280 or at: jriskind@mainetoday.com