PORTLAND (AP) – Radiation and chemical detection equipment and hazardous materials suits are among the equipment that Maine’s fire and police departments are planning to buy with more than $22 million in funding announced Monday by Sen. Susan Collins. Fire and police officials joined Collins, R-Maine, as she presented a ceremonial check for $22.4 million.

The funding is important because people turn to their state and local agencies, not the federal government, when emergencies arise, she said.

“In the event of a terrorist attack, people don’t dial 202, the Washington, D.C., area code,” Collins said. “They dial 911.”

The heads of Portland’s fire and police departments said that without such funding they could not afford to buy specialized terror-prevention equipment.

“This is equipment we need to fulfill our mission to protect our citizens,” said Portland Fire Chief Fred LaMontagne. “This is equipment we could not purchase off our regular tax rolls.”

Art Cleaves, director of the Maine Emergency Management Agency, last week presented Homeland Security officials in Washington with a strategic plan for security in Maine that has been in the works since May 2002.

“We don’t think it’s likely here in Maine, but we want to be prepared,” he said. “We’ve come light years from four years ago.”

Josh Filler, who directs state and local government coordination at the Department of Homeland Security, said federal officials look to reports like Cleaves’ in deciding how to fund security needs.

“We don’t look at a state independent of the people who live and work there,” Filler said. “It’s not a top down approach, nor should it be. The people who live and work here know this state better than anyone in Washington.”

All 16 Maine counties now have equipment that can detect radiation and other signatures of a chemical or nuclear weapon of mass destruction, he said.

Those tools don’t come cheap. LaMontagne said a simple radiation meter can run from $1,500 to $3,000 and a more advanced meter can cost $15,000. That does not include the costs of training, special suits and isolation equipment.

Collins said such equipment is particularly important in Portland, the state’s largest city and one of New England’s busiest ports.

“One of those containers could contain the makings of a dirty bomb,” she said.

Collins is chairwoman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Homeland Security Department. The committee last year approved a bill Collins introduced that would make it easier for police and fire departments to apply for Homeland Security grants.

AP-ES-04-05-04 1759EDT



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