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Maine First Responders Worry Drop in Funding will Hurt Preparedness

PORTLAND, Maine -- Throughout Maine, fire and police chiefs say federal money has given them the means to better deal with disaster -- and resources to help other communities in and out of Maine.

They worry that the job will get harder as federal homeland security funding for states and communities declines.

''No one is big enough to handle every incident that comes along,'' said Jeffrey Cammack, Bangor's fire chief and the president of the Maine Fire Chiefs Association. ''We are all going to need help. Municipal officials are reluctant to build excess into the system. But they are willing to build it in if it is in partnership with the federal government.''

James Carafano, a homeland security expert with the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., said there's no evidence that the money has done much to shore up the nation's security, or measurably improved local departments' ability to respond to disasters.

For instance, an analysis of safety records for dealing with fires and saving lives showed no real difference between cities that received federal firefighting grants and cities that didn't, Carafano said.

Augusta Fire Chief Roger Audette said his department has received three grants from the program, totaling nearly $100,000, for fire safety education programs in schools and senior citizens' complexes, and for a large-diameter fire hose.

It was training and equipment that Augusta's department would not have received, with tax dollars limited, Audette said.

''I am worried that the funding is going to continue to subside,'' he said. ''I feel like we have made tremendous improvements in our ability to respond'' to events such as Tropical Storm Irene and to everyday emergencies.

In Waterville, $298,500 in federal money was used three years ago to buy a new fire truck that the city couldn't afford otherwise, said Fire Chief David LaFountain.

He said one fire truck that stopped working recently has not been replaced, and another is in the shop for repairs, leaving just one truck in service - the one purchased with federal funds.

To pay for equipment that helps rescuers find trapped firefighters, Waterville now is pursuing a grant as part of a regional consortium, rather than applying as one small city competing against hundreds of cities nationwide.

''Competition (for federal grants) is up and money is down,'' LaFountain said.

The Bath Police Department's responsibilities include safeguarding Bath Iron Works, which builds Navy ships. The relatively small amount of homeland security money that has gone to the city over the years is declining.

Bath police have received about $96,000 since Sept. 11, some of that in a multijurisdictional grant in 2009 that put Bath and nearby communities on a common communications platform.

A specially equipped Chevrolet Tahoe, portable road barricades and a trailer could not have been bought without a $52,400 federal grant in 2005. The department uses them ''constantly at Bath Iron Works, mostly for (ship) christenings and other major events,'' said Police Chief Michael Field

While the barriers will last a while, the vehicle has a limited lifespan and Field said he doubts it can be replaced through the department's capital budget.



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