NEW VINEYARD – New Vineyard’s new fire chief is already off to a good start, securing $29,340 in federal money within three months of his appointment.

Douglas Churchill, appointed at the town’s annual meeting in March after longtime chief Bob Holbrook resigned, said he was surprised to learn that his town’s department was one of four selected from across the state and among the 219 picked nationwide to receive grant money from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The award, announced last week by Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, is thanks to the FIRE Grant program, established by federal legislation sponsored by the two Maine senators to improve the effectiveness of firefighting operations nationally.

“The rural nature of our state means that many of Maine’s 494 fire departments have to cover vast areas, making it difficult for communities to share services or otherwise cooperate to achieve efficiencies. This funding will help fire departments … meet the increased demands to provide the services on which we all depend,” said the senators in a joint statement.

Overall, the program represents a $750 million investment in improved fire and EMS services nationwide.

Churchill says he is just happy to get a slice of the pie. “Oh, it’s fantastic,” he said Monday. “This is a big help to a very small town.”

The town of New Vineyard will have to match $3,260 of the 90-10 grant, with that money coming from the department’s annual budget of around $12,000 and several fund-raisers, Churchill said.

The money will be used, he said, to buy new head-to-toe “turn-out gear” for the department’s 18 volunteer firefighters including protective helmets, jackets, pants and boots as the current equipment is severely outdated.

“This will be real nice to have,” said Churchill. “It should bring us up to standard and keep us there for a good few years. For a small town to have this kind of money, it’s real nice.”

New communications equipment, mainly radios, will also be purchased and any leftover monies will be used for firefighter training.

After recently undergoing a new town assessment that caused taxes to jump, Churchill said it’s nice to know that the town is getting a break. Over the next few years, the grant will save the department money, he said, and make firefighters safer.

The grant goes beyond just New Vineyard, as other towns that request mutual aid will also benefit from the improved department.

The money will be spent within three months.

After being selected as the new chief, Churchill said he had less than two weeks to pull the grant application, his first, together. “This is a great surprise and we are very excited. I am just amazed we got it,” he said.

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