CAPE ELIZABETH —The Fire & Rescue Department has added two new overnight per-diem staff members to lessen response times and better serve the public.

Chief Peter Gleeson said the new positions, or shifts, are designed to allow fire and rescue personnel to “respond to calls in a more timely fashion.”

Like many small departments across Maine, Gleeson said Cape Elizabeth still relies on volunteer firefighters in an emergency, but the number of volunteers is decreasing and the training requirements are getting more onerous. Right now, he said, the department has about 30 volunteers.

Cape Elizabeth Fire Chief Peter Gleeson said adding two new per-diem firefighters will help provide better coverage during the overnight hours. The new shifts started Dec. 1. File

Cape Elizabeth is getting more calls for service every year, although Gleeson said he’s seen no dramatic shifts in the number of calls received. In 2018, he said, the department responded to about 1,100 calls, compared to 970 in 2015.

With the two new firefighters, who are also trained paramedics, Gleeson said he can provide better coverage to residents, especially overnight.

In order to make room for the new staff, the Town Center Station recently underwent a $75,000 renovation to create two new bedrooms from a converted storage area.

With the two additional staff, Gleeson said Cape Elizabeth now has a total of four per-diem shifts that work to keep the community safe 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Gleason, who is the only full-time person on staff at the Fire & Rescue Department, said the per-diem firefighters utilized by Cape Elizabeth mostly come from other departments around Greater Portland. He said each is asked to work a 12-hour shift.

The 2020 fiscal year budget included nearly $647,000 in additional wages, which covered an across-the-board 2% wage increase along with the two additional per-diem firefighters, according to materials Town Manager Matt Sturgis provided to the Town Council this past spring.

Hiring per-diem firefighters is “clearly becoming a more common practice” for smaller fire departments across the state, according to John Duross, the fire chief in Saco who is also president of the Maine Fire Chiefs’ Association.

Duross said fire departments are struggling with reduced numbers and availability of volunteers while the pressure is on to “respond quickly to any emergency.”

He said for any community “providing public safety is a top priority” and that’s why many departments are attempting a variety of “creative ways to make sure there are enough first responders available.”

While Gleeson said Cape Elizabeth has experienced success with using per-diem firefighters, he’s not sure it’s the best long-term solution. That’s one reason that councilors have called on Gleeson and Sturgis to provide them with a report of what the Fire & Rescue Department should look like going forward.

There is no timetable for the report, as councilors have yet to determine the exact nature of their review, Gleeson said this week.

Duross said while using per-diem firefighters is working for smaller departments with few full-time staff, there may come a time when there are not enough per-diem staff to fill shifts.

Like many other positions in public safety, fewer people are choosing it as a career path, he said. Duross said most fire departments in Maine are seeing a reduced number of applications for open positions, so “we’re all doing the best we can to attract people and let them know there’s true job satisfaction in providing a public service.”

Comments are not available on this story.