Limestone to purchase new firefighting gear using ARPA funds

1 year ago

LIMESTONE, Maine — Limestone Fire Department will soon have two new sets of firefighting gear thanks to federal COVID-19 relief funds the town has received.

On Wednesday, the selectboard voted unanimously to allocate $7,000 of the town’s $230,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds to purchase two firefighting outfits for the volunteer department.

Last month, selectboard members discussed with Fire Chief Jon Poitras possibly allocating $38,000 for 10 sets of gear. Ultimately, the selectboard decided on a lower amount so the town can put more money into a new highway department garage.

“This is a huge opportunity to catch up on purchasing gear and give taxpayers a break,” Poitras said. “[Having 10 sets] is not a dire need, but we do need to replace those two sets.”

Poitras agreed with the vote. He said that purchasing at least two sets of gear with the ARPA funds will allow him to set aside yearly department funds toward future sets.

One outfit costs around $3,500, but that is expected to increase by $2,000 in early March, Poitras said.

The firefighting gear will be Limestone’s first major purchase using the ARPA funds.

The selectboard voted 4-to-1 to put the remaining ARPA funds toward designing and constructing a highway department garage, which Interim Town Manager Walt Elliot estimates will cost over $1 million.

The current highway garage is at least 75 years old and in dire need of replacement, selectboard member Jesse Philbrick said.

Several grant opportunities are available to fund the garage, including federal grants sponsored by the office of Maine Sen. Susan Collins. ARPA funds can be used as match funds for certain grants, Elliot noted.

“The more money we have set aside for the project, the more influence that will have on the grant,” Elliot said.

Chris Durepo was the only selectboard member to vote against the garage-related ARPA funds, suggesting that the town instead use any remaining funds to match future grants that the town receives.

Along with the other four selectboard members, Durepo voted in favor of using funds from the town’s administration account to hire a temporary grant writer.

Since Elliot is not claiming health insurance and other yearly benefits as interim manager, that leaves an extra $18,000 in the account, he noted. The selectboard had initially discussed using $10,000 in ARPA funds to hire a grant writer.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Poitras and the selectboard also thanked the town’s volunteer firefighters for providing mutual aid to Caribou during the two fires that devastated the city’s downtown. 

Limestone’s crew joined a total of 50 firefighters from Caribou, Limestone, Fort Fairfield, North Lakes Fire & Rescue, Presque Isle and Washburn who were on scene on Water Street, and several who responded to a later fire on Sweden Street.

“We have a dedicated crew who were in Caribou at 2 a.m., back here in town at 8 a.m. and then back to Caribou until 2 or 3 p.m.,” Poitras said. “These [mutual aid] agreements are so important because one day the favor will be returned.”

The selectboard will meet next at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 15, at the town office at 93 Main St.