January 18, 2022

Gift from ice storm: firefighting equipment > Towns get gear to combat forest blazes

OLD TOWN — Maybe last year’s ice storm wasn’t all bad.

Had the January 1998 disaster not left much of the state’s woodlands in ruins, Maine’s firefighters might not have the equipment they need to battle forest fires effectively.

The Maine Forest Service — using part of the $25 million in federal funds for Ice Storm ’98 relief — on Monday began distributing $2.5 million in specialized forest-fire fighting equipment to nearly 300 local fire departments.

“We have the people, now we have the gear,” Frank Hammond, chief of the Lincoln Fire Department, said as his loaded pickup truck left the Forest Service’s regional headquarters here. “We’ve done OK with what we’ve got, but we don’t have much.”

Hammond said the more than $10,000 in added equipment, including axes, shovels, fire-resistant clothing and portable pumps would give his crews a leg up during next summer’s forest fire season.

“Last time, we could send one equipped crew in,” said Hammond, whose department battled between six and eight forest fires last summer. “Next time, we’ll be able to send three or four.”

Tom Doak, director of the Maine Forest Service, said Monday that the distribution — expected to take several weeks — is the second of the forest service’s three-part Wildlife Hazard Control Program.

In the first phase, 27 towns received about $450,000 for ice storm assessment and cleanup. The third phase will provide forest fire training.

The equipment includes helmets, radios, hoses, goggles and brush coats according to Doak. He said outfitting the local departments benefited the Forest Service.

“A lot of these rural fire departments don’t have the right equipment — or enough of it,” he said. “This gives them the equipment they need, and it gives us comfort in knowing they’re better prepared to fight a woodland fire.”

Almost 70 percent of the state’s fire departments will receive equipment under the program, according to Tom Parent, the Forest Service’s forest fire control supervisor. He explained that while most departments are well equipped for structure fires, it’s often a different story when it comes to woodland blazes.

The Forest Service required each department to complete a formal assessment of its readiness to battle forest fires before approving equipment requests.

Other local departments set to receive equipment are Milford, Corinth, Passadumkeag, Milbridge and Orono.

Orono Fire Chief Lorin LeCleire said Monday that $3,100 of the more than $9,000 granted to the department would fund the addition of seven rural hydrants in town.

LeCleire’s crews have battled a number of small fires near the recreational trails off Essex Street and around Pushaw Lake. In addition to the rakes and shovels destined for the department, the seven “dry hydrants,” which take water from local ponds, will make controlling those fires easier, he said.

Have feedback? Want to know more? Send us ideas for follow-up stories.

comments for this post are closed

You may also like