First responders from Saco, Waterboro, Sanford and Old Orchard Beach joined representatives of Firehouse Subs and the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation on Thursday in Biddeford to accept $84,321 in grants awarded by the foundation. The grants have allowed the four agencies to purchase valuable life-saving equipment. ED PIERCE/Journal Tribune

BIDDEFORD — Every day, first responders across York County put their lives on the line to protect others, but on Thursday morning some of these selfless public servants were humbled to be awarded $84,321 in grant money to continue their invaluable work in saving lives.

In a special ceremony in Biddeford, representatives of the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation recognized four public agencies in the county that applied for and received these grants.

“It is so rewarding to be able to give back to those who put their lives on the line to protect us,” said Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation Senior Manager of Marketing and Communications Jackie Gubbins-Kotos. “People don’t realize first responders often lack the funds needed to purchase necessary equipment, and we’re thankful for the generous contributions from our donors that allow us to provide this assistance through the Foundation.”

One of the agencies that received a grant from Firehouse Subs is the Sanford Fire Department. They used a grant of $26,698 to purchase an all wheel drive ATV that will allow them access to intricate parts of the wooded trails within Sanford, and overall faster rescue.

“This ATV can go where none of our other larger vehicles can go,” Sanford Assistant Fire Chief Steve Cutter said.

Not only does the ATV give access to the trails around the city, it also provides an easier vehicle to manage large events.

“We use (the ATV) for crowd control too,” said Cutter. “It’s easier to maneuver throughout crowds and it’s just a great piece of equipment.”

Another town’s fire station whose equipment has improved as a result of the grant is Waterboro. With the $24,041 they received in grant money, the Waterboro Fire/EMS Department has been able to purchase battery operated, cordless extraction equipment to allow for faster extraction of victims of car accidents.

“There was an accident recently where I came from another area to join the responders at the scene,” said Waterboro Lieutenant Scott Birkemose. “They had to use the extraction equipment with the cord and it takes a while to set up. If they had the cordless equipment, it would’ve been a lot faster.”

This new equipment for Waterboro should be available by the end of the month, said Waterboro Fire Chief Matt Bors.

The Old Orchard Beach Fire Department received a grant of $23,957 to purchase 20 protective body armor vests.

Lieutenant Bill Young of Old Orchard Beach said with an increase in violent situations across the country and active shooter situations, the need for the protective body armor became urgent.

“EMS members are often thrown into dangerous situations and this is something we are grateful to have,” Young said. “Sometimes we arrive at scenes before police officers and this is an added measure of protection.”

He said that the vests are more tactical than those used by nearby fire departments as they are lighter and offer protection on the sides, shoulder and front.

“We can’t be more appreciative,” Young said. “It’s amazing. It was a lot of money to ask for and we’re very grateful. We couldn’t have done this without Firehouse Subs.”

The Saco Police Department used a grant of $9,625 to purchase six new automated external defibrillators, said Saco Deputy Police Chief Corey Huntress.

He said the new machines replaced older units in Saco Police frontline cruisers.

“We’ve already used the new ones on two separate occasions,” Huntress said. “It’s a lifesaving tool that gives a person in distress a way to survive. All of our officers have been trained in how to use them.”

According to Huntress, the old machines have been returned to the manufacturer for refurbishing and redistribution.

The event included remarks from Gubbins-Kotos, Firehouse Subs Area Representative Robert Baldacci, and Biddeford Firehouse Subs franchisees Michael Koman and Michelle Koman.

Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation was founded in 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when Firehouse Subs founders Chris Sorensen and Robin Sorensen traveled to Mississippi where they provided food to first responders and survivors.

As they traveled back to Florida, they knew they could do more and Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation was born with the mission of providing funding, lifesaving equipment and educational opportunities to first responders and public safety organizations. Since its inception, the nonprofit organization, based in Jacksonville, Florida, has granted more than $37.7 million to hometown heroes in 47 states, Puerto Rico and Canada, and the total includes grants of more than $237,000 in Maine.

Gubbins-Kotos  said that grant allocations are made possible thanks to the overwhelming support of Firehouse Subs restaurants and generous donors. Each restaurant recycles five-gallon pickle buckets, available to guests for a $2 donation to the Foundation.

Donation canisters on register counters collect spare change, while the Round Up Program allows guests to “round up” their bill to the nearest dollar. The Foundation is also the beneficiary of a Charitable Sales Promotion where Firehouse of America will donate to the foundation a sum equivalent to 0.13 percent of all gross sales with a minimum donation of $1 million through Dec. 31, 2018.

To donate online and support Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation, visit FirehouseSubsFoundation.org.

— Executive Editor Ed Pierce contributed to this article.

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