Maine Department of Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman presented the Safety and Health Award for Public Employers, known as the SHAPE award, to Nobleboro Fire and Rescue on Wednesday, Nov. 16.
Fortman, who is a Nobleboro resident, said she specifically asked to be a part of the presentation “because it’s an exciting opportunity for the town and important recognition for the work that (they are) doing.”
Fortman was joined at the presentation by Mary Matthews, program manager for the Workplace Safety and Health division of the Maine Department of Labor, who said the award represents a serious commitment to safety and health.
“It takes a lot of hard work to earn this award,” Matthews said.
The SHAPE award, recognizes public sector employers who maintain an exemplary safety and health management system. The achievement marks Nobleboro Fire and Rescue as a model for workplace safety. According to an email from Jessica Picard, communications manager for the Maine Department of Labor, a total of 84 public employers out of 2,400 statewide have managed to complete the program to date.
The initial consultation required to earn the SHAPE designation involves a complete hazard identification survey followed by the correction of all noted hazards. Other elements of the program include hazardous materials training, a bloodborne pathogens exposure control plan and training, a respiratory protection program, medical evaluations, fit tests, and regular equipment and gear inspections. Successful departments must also maintain lost workday and total injury and illness case rates below the state average. Nobleboro Fire & Rescue’s injury rate is zero.
Nobleboro is now one of 40 fire departments in the state to have earned the SHAPE distinction. Lincoln County departments that have completed all the necessary steps now consist of Alna, Boothbay, Bristol, Damariscotta, Edgecomb, Jefferson, Newcastle, Nobleboro, Somerville, and Waldoboro.
According to Fortman, improved morale and employee retention are among the benefits of completing the program. The certification also allows the department to defer scheduled safety inspections; the SHAPE designation is valid for two years and can be renewed if the criteria continue to be met.
In addition, it can also represent financial savings for the town through lower workers’ compensation costs and a likely reduction in insurance rates.
“It’s been a long road,” Nobleboro Fire Chief Richard Genthner said.
The process started while he was still deputy chief in June 2019. Genthner said preliminary findings indicated the department had several issues with a risk of potentially hefty fines if left unaddressed. Genthner said the department partnered with the town’s select board prior to moving forward.
“We wanted to stay ahead of the curve and do things the right way,” he said.
Genthner said some of the fixes were small, such as replacing light bulbs, ensuring electrical panels had the necessary informational placards. However, there were also policies that had to be written as well as a lot of physical maintenance needed to be completed on the department’s two buildings. Nobleboro Fire and Rescue has a primary station on Route 1, but also maintains a secondary location in Damariscotta Mills.
“It’s a lot of work and it’s a team effort from everyone,” Genthner said regarding the involvement of the department’s rank and file in the process.
Nobleboro firefighters have had additional training on record keeping techniques and now share responsibility for reporting maintenance issues. They also ensure the involvement of compliance officer, Deputy Chief Matt Dixon, when handling unfamiliar hazardous materials.
Genthner said the biggest lesson that came out of the process was the importance of paperwork. The department now has a succession plan in place to ensure that essential records can be accessed more easily.
“Paperwork is the key to everything and as much as the paperwork is annoying it’s there for a reason,” he said.
“One thing about the effort in Nobleboro, they really created a culture of safety,” Fortman said. “Sometimes people participate in programs to just kind of check the boxes and do things on the surface, but this team has really worked together to create that entire culture and that’s what makes it sustainable.”
“That was the goal,” Genthner said. “We all wanted to leave it better than how we found it.”