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Salem chief says ladder truck grant unattainable

SALEM — The town would have virtually no shot at successfully winning a $1 million federal grant to help pay for a new ladder truck for the fire department, according to Fire Chief Kevin Breen.

On Monday night, Breen addressed selectmen about why the department is not applying for a federal grant through the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program to pay for a new ladder truck.Breen said the grant process is incredibly competitive, and by applying for funds for the ladder truck, it would prevent the department from applying for other grants for equipment.This year’s town budget includes $1.2 million for a new ladder truck to replace the current truck, a 1999 vehicle stationed in South Salem.

Breen said that last year, the federal program had a budget of $290 million. With further separation dividing that money into different areas and programs, Breen said less than $17 million was awarded for vehicles in the category the Salem fire department falls under.

Furthermore, Breen said the grant process typically does not award the grants if another funding mechanism for the request has already been established. Since the ladder truck request is already in the town’s budget, Breen said it would be difficult to justify the request through the grant program.

“We budgeted for this truck, we approved it and decided politically and publicly to pay cash for it,” said Breen. “I think that is problematic in this grant application.”

In 2012, Breen said there were only eight grants approved across the country for vehicles over $700,000. He also noted that last year, Salem was awarded $64,000 for new defibrillators.

Under the program, a department can make only one grant application per year.

“My professional opinion is that we should not apply for a million dollar grant to pay for a ladder truck that we have a poor chance of receiving when another grant would have a better chance of being approved,” said Breen.

The deadline for the grant is Dec. 6, and Breen said the department is considering applying for money for sprinkler and alarm systems for one of its smaller fire stations.

Selectman Stephen Campbell said he raised the question of the federal grants after reading about Manchester and Windham applying for money for emergency vehicles.

“Maybe this information should have been provided to us before we considered the budget,” said Campbell. “It is hard to ask people for $1.2 million if there is the possibility of a grant that was never mentioned. It’s just a matter of getting the information out.”

Breen said that applying for the ladder truck would not only be a waste of time, but a waste of an opportunity to apply for a grant for other equipment.

Selectmen voted 4-0-1 to support Breen, with Campbell

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