This month the York County Commission voted to designate Oct. 28 as First Responders’ Day.
It’s so important that we take the time to appreciate the service of those who are on the front lines. Those who are first to the scene of a fire, first to get to your home to take you to the hospital, first to put themselves into harm’s way to protect you. It takes a special kind of person to step up and put the needs of the community first. These are the unsung heroes that never ask for recognition or want to be in the spotlight, but absolutely deserve it. We owe them so much more than our gratitude.
We’ve seen a strain when it comes to the public safety workforce. The need for law enforcement, corrections, firefighters, EMS, and other emergency-based roles throughout Southern Maine is high, but many first responders are leaving the profession or not entering it to begin with. Currently, first responders in York County don’t have an adequate and centralized site to train, practice and prepare. Our county government is working on the creation of a new first responder and readiness center to address this.
The $40 million package provided to York County by the federal government, from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), represents a transformational, once-in-a-generation investment for our area. I’m proud to have voted to commit $27.5 million of these funds to be split evenly between our planned recovery treatment center and this first responder training facility. It was one of the first votes I took as a new county commissioner. This is our moment for county government to be part of a long-term solution that will make a real difference.
The planned 45,000-square-foot training facility will be built on county-owned land next to the county jail in Alfred.
There are a number of important elements to the facility. First, there would be a Strategic Planning and Emergency Operations Center so that during any public emergency, this site would serve as a hub for the logistics of staging, coordination, and dissemination of material, equipment, personnel, and other resources. Second, would be an All-Hazards Training Center. The impact of this part of the facility aims to address the recruitment, retention and even morale of our first responders. There would be a number of components to the training provided. For firefighters, there would be live fire burn rooms and training towers to practice fire suppression techniques, search and rescue, ground ladders, fire pump operations, tanker shuttles, and more. For law enforcement, simulating and practicing use of force and weapons with live-fire techniques is critical to preparing for real world events. Medical simulations labs would be available for the first time for emergency medical technicians and paramedics. Emergency dispatchers will have a place to practice and train for managing emotional 911 callers and coordinating complicated incidents. We’ve seen with transportation related accidents across the country, a need to prepare for hazardous response. This facility will enable us to do so in an environmentally safe manner. Public safety, local hospitals, utility companies, public health, emergency management, and officials from all levels of government will utilize this facility for multi-disciplinary planning and collaboration for emergency prevention, mitigation, response, and recovery.
Currently, the project is working its way through the planning board process in Alfred and we anticipate beginning work next year if all is approved. Once the training center is built, the implementation of programs will require various stakeholder engagement. York County Community College will be a critical partner with us in developing programs and sharing curriculum, instructors, supervision, and facilities on the workforce development front.
The county has hired a development director to assist with continued funding efforts of programs at both the training facility and our new recovery center. There is also an external foundation, the York County First Responder Foundation, that we voted to engage with to be the vehicle for outside funding resources from the private sector and grants. You can learn more about the foundation at https://ycfrf.org.
As we take the time to honor and appreciate those who work so hard to keep us safe and put their own lives on the line for us, we are doing something tangible at the county level that will empower the next generation of first responders.
Justin Chenette is a York County Commissioner and currently serves as vice chair of the commission. He also serves on the executive committee of the Southern Maine Planning & Development Commission, Maine Right to Know Advisory Committee, Age Friendly Saco board, and provides college scholarships through his foundation. He is the author of the book, “The Great Whoopie Pie Debate: A Kids’ Guide to the Maine Legislature.” Get county updates at CommissionerChenette.com.