A fire truck parked inside Freeport Public Safety. C. Thacher Carter / The Times Record

Freeport councilors voted to spend $160,500 to fund hazard pay for first responders that worked during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bonus applies to 76 first responders that were with the Freeport Fire and Rescue and Police Department between April 1, 2020, and March 31, 2021 — a timeframe that roughly aligns with Gov. Janet Mills’ declared state of emergency. The money will be sourced from American Rescue Plan Act funding provided by the federal government.

Of the 76 employees, the 54 first responders that worked in the fire and rescue department will be paid an additional $2.50 per hour worked, which equals $97,205. The other 22 employees, made up of police first responders and fire and rescue chief officers, will be paid $1.50 per hour worked, about $63,110 in total.

“Unequivocally, they were out there, they were at the risk, and one of my worries right now is the aspect of COVID fatigue,” Freeport Fire and Rescue Chief Paul Conley said. “We’re still doing the job, still going out, answering the calls, we’re seeing the spikes in the community and such. So, it’s still going on.”

According to Freeport Town Manager Peter Joseph, the two departments were chosen for hazard pay because of the nature of the job duties, which placed workers at a higher risk for COVID-19 exposure compared to other town employees. Social distancing was usually not possible, he said, and fire and rescue personnel frequently provided hands-on medical care to patients that were COVID positive.

“Never once that I was made aware of did anybody not get into an ambulance with a patient that they know needed care because they might be COVID positive,” Joseph said.

Advertisement

One of those first responders, Firefighter and EMT Matt Conde, has treated dozens of COVID-19 patients while working in an ambulance.

“We trust our equipment every day in what we do,” said Conde, a Monmouth resident who has worked with Freeport since 2017. “Trusting the precautions we were taking, trusting the fact that the N-95 [masks] we were wearing and the gloves and goggles that we were wearing were doing their job.”

As the pandemic continues, Conde, who is vaccinated, said that right now the department is seeing more patients than ever before. Being around the virus has been a stressor, Conde said, due to concerns about bringing it home to his family. He said he is appreciative of the town for the hazard pay.

During the 2020 fiscal year, town documents show that Freeport Fire and Rescue responded to five structure fires, 780 total fire calls and 1,128 patient transports. In the same timeframe, the police department answered 7,650 calls and made 204 arrests.

According to the same documents, the town budgeted about $1.2 million for police personnel in the 2022 fiscal year and just over $1 million was allocated for the fire and rescue personnel combined.

The town’s fiscal year starts in July and ends in June the following year.

Advertisement

The starting wage for a basic firefighter or EMT in Freeport starts at $14.89 an hour and goes up to $21.68 for those who are paramedics. Police officers range from $23.47 to $33.23 an hour.

While the council ultimately voted unanimously, Town Councilor Matthew Pillsbury asked for consideration of other frontline workers in Freeport.

“If we’re going to do hazard pay, if we’re going to take a portion of those funds and dedicate it to that I’m okay with it, but I want it to be hazard pay that’s looked across the board for town employees,” said Pillsbury.

Yarmouth has also approved a hazard pay proposal for first responders — the specifics of which are currently under review by the town’s attorney. The council approved $40,000, also sourced from American Rescue Plan Act funding.

“The town council was unanimous in their support of hazard pay for the staff and they recognize the challenges and efforts of the first responders and all employees during the pandemic,” wrote Yarmouth Fire Rescue Chief Michael Robitaille in an email.

The starting hourly pay for firefighters in Yarmouth ranges from $13 an hour for volunteer staff to $22 an hour for career staff. Per diem pay for the rescue department ranges from $13 an hour to $22.50 an hour, depending on qualifications. Police department hourly pay for patrol officers starts at $24.76 an hour.

In Bath, about $140,000 worth of hazard pay was distributed in late December, $70,000 of which was designated to fire, rescue and police first responders who each received $2,000. Others frontline town employees that met the American Rescue Plan Act funding criteria received $1,000. The current hourly rate for the lowest police position pays $23.32 an hour, and $21.25 for firefighters or EMS personnel.

No hazard pay has been issued in Brunswick, according to Fire Chief Ken Brilliant and Police Chief Scott Stewart.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.