Firefighters, police get grants to enhance safety, training

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WESTBROOK — Firefighters’ chances of developing cancer are 9 percent higher than the general public’s, and the chances of them dying from a cancer-related disease is 14 percent higher, according to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. 

A recent grant awarded to the Westbrook Fire Department will help to make sure Westbrook firefighters are not part of those statistics. On Monday, the City Council accepted the $2,000 grant from the Maine Municipal Association Safety Enhancement Grant Program to purchase 60 fire hoods for the department.

Deputy Fire Chief Stephen Sloan said the new hoods cover “all the area that our masks don’t cover” and filters carcinogenic smoke “so it doesn’t get on the skin,” particularly around the ears and head. 

“The ones we are looking at filter out 99 percent of cancer-causing agents so we are looking at this as an enhancement,” Sloan said.

The fire hoods can be washed and will last between 100 and 200 washes. Sloan said the hoods would be used only in the event of a heavy smoke situation, which typically only happen 10 to 15 times a year.

The department is still using customary hoods, which don’t block the majority of particulates, including toxic chemicals that can be deadly. In a June 26 correspondence to the council, Fire Chief Andrew Turcotte said the grant would reduce firefighters’ exposure to carcinogens and potential occupational exposure, which “helps reduce on the job injuries and workers compensation claims.”

The grant funding, Sloan said, will fund a portion of the 60 new fire hoods, which cost $100 a piece. Reserve funding will cover the remaining costs.

“This is a great step forward, even if we can only buy a certain amount now,” he said.

The Maine Municipal Association grant is not the only one that has recently come Westbrook’s way. The Westbrook Police Department will use $14,846 in funding from an Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant, secured through the help of the Portland and South Portland police departments.

The money will be spent to buy 50 flashlights to replace older flashlights that are not working properly; pepperball training ammunition for an upcoming training program; beanbag training rounds; Taser training rounds; a Ridge Pro Plus Digital Magnifier for fingerprint comparisons; Centurion Scout Portable Alert System and entry tools.

In a July 5 correspondence to councilors, Westbrook Police Capt. Steven Goldberg said the training rounds and ammunition will increase the department’s training capabilities. Officers’ use of Tasers “has been instrumental in defusing many situations where lethal force may have been used, and had kept officers and the public safe.”

The flashlights will make patrolling at night safer and the magnifier will make it easier to compare fingerprints and solves crimes like burglaries or robberies. The entry tools, he explained will help detectives respond to major emergencies.

“We have seen from prior incidents that sometimes our detectives are the first on scene to a major incident or we have multiple incidents in the city and they will be the primary responders to one of those incidents. Currently they lack entry tools,” he said. “The addition of these entry tools will allow our detectives to have the ability to enter an emergency situation with the tools they need to gain entry.”

The portable alert system would be placed in the home of someone who, because of another person, is in danger. The system, he said, comes with a panic button and “when the victim pushes the button, the distress signal goes directly to all police officers’ radios, enabling them to respond immediately.”

The $14,846 represents Westbrook’s share of the overall $92,071 grant, which was awarded to the Portland Police Department, the lead applicant and fiscal agent. The share for Portland police is $63,299 and South Portland’s share is $13,926.

Michael Kelley can be reached at 781-3661 x 125 or [email protected] or on Twitter @mkelleynews.

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