‘this is just our first step’

Belfast tackles first responder shortage with higher pay, enhanced benefits

Thu, 11/18/2021 - 6:30pm

    BELFAST — The Belfast and Fire and Ambulance Department, along with the city, have outlined plans to address the first responder shortage both in the community and the region. Across the state, municipalities are struggling to fill these essential emergency positions, the departments said Nov. 18, in a public announcement.

    This week, the Belfast City Council approved an increase in fire and ambulance service salaries and wages, stating that the wages for firefighters and emergency medical technicians will be competitive. EMTs will begin with an hourly rate of at last $24, the city said.

    Until now, first responders have to pick up back-to-back shifts and work extended hours to make up the difference and ensure that citizens are able to receive the help that they need, the city said, in a news release.

    “The Belfast City Council has always been a leader in addressing and navigating challenging issues, and this is no exception,” said Councilor Mary Mortier, in downtown Belfast during a press conference. “The Belfast City Council is committed to providing these critical emergency services to our community, and this is just our first step. The City of Belfast is prepared to modernize to meet this critical demand because the health and safety of our citizens will always be our top priority.”

    City Manager Erin Herbig said: “It is difficult to quantify how valuable each of our first responders is to our community. When our department goes short staffed, it means longer response times, and what could be the difference between life and death for any of us or anyone that we love. This should not be the standard for our first responders, and the citizens of Belfast and Waldo County deserve better that that.”

    “The department responds to an average of 2,277 calls in a one year period. This requires a lot of staffing, resources, and leadership,” said Fire Chief Patrick Richards. “We are confident that this investment will retain our current roster and grow our department. This step means that our City has a clear vision for the delivery of emergency services, and I am excited to be a part of one of the first municipalities to step up and address this demand.”

    Moving forward, the Belfast City Council also plans to enhance the retirement package all for Firefighters/EMTs by moving all of the City’s first responders to the Maine PERS C3 plan in the next budget as the Council did with the Police Department in 2020.

    “This is our vision,” Mayor Eric Sanders said, “the payoff is not money, it is the validation of our employees. We are offering a great opportunity for retention and a continuation of leadership for our new Fire Chief, and a future for those who choose to work here and serve our citizens.”