Supply chain problems are causing some of Maine’s emergency management agencies to wait months longer than expected for equipment — in some cases, for life-saving tools.
Piscataquis County Emergency Management Agency’s director is delivering automated external defibrillators to police and fire departments this week, but they were backordered for months. The 18 portable medical devices used to aid those experiencing cardiac arrest are also going to the sheriff’s office and American Legion in Greenville.
“We are very excited to get them into cruisers and onto fire engines that did not previously have them, or we’re replacing very old devices which are not holding a charge or are out of date,” said Director Jaeme Duggan, whose agency ordered them in November of last year.
Fluctuating prices and supply chain issues aren’t new, but a crisis that emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a headache for many of Maine’s county emergency management agencies. Delayed equipment means public safety groups are often forced to work with less or with pool resources, directors said. In rural areas especially, medical devices or radio communication antennas, such as those arriving in Penobscot County soon, make a real difference during emergencies.
“Due to the rural nature of communities outside the Bangor area, where ambulance services are delayed or coming from far away, if an officer is first on scene, those AEDs can help keep someone alive or functioning until medical personnel show up,” said Bradley Nuding, Penobscot County’s emergency management director.
In Piscataquis, departments notified the emergency management agency about their need for the defibrillators, and the sheriff’s office requested theirs as far back as October 2021, Duggan said.
Placing the orders took time because the agency made the devices a project for the following spring, and grant funding from the United States Department of Homeland Security didn’t become available until the fall, she said. The devices — going to Milo, Greenville and the sheriff’s office in Guilford, among other places — cost more than $14,800 in total.
The defibrillators were more at the forefront of people’s minds after NFL player Damar Hamlin collapsed and suffered cardiac arrest during a game last month, Duggan said. She has noticed increased awareness about early intervention with the devices.
Darren Woods, Aroostook County emergency management director, purchased 15 thermal imaging cameras in December, and he expects it could take up to eight months for them to arrive.
Each police department in The County is expected to receive one, and the handheld units allow officers to pick up temperature differences, he said.
For example, officers might use the cameras while searching for a person who ran into the woods to escape police, or to locate someone who is drowning and is difficult to see in the water. Once the cameras finally arrive, they will help law enforcement move faster and make situations easier and safer, Woods said.
“The delays have a direct effect on public safety,” he said, and county EMAs must work with their communities to share resources wisely. “We have to collaborate a little more and get our requests for aid out quicker.”
Woods encounters similar frustrations at North Lakes Fire & Rescue, which covers four unorganized territories in Aroostook County and where he serves as fire chief. He ordered a handful of portable radios for members in November and still hasn’t heard back about when they might be delivered, he said.
A truck that the department ordered last year and expected to arrive in November hasn’t been built yet because suppliers can’t get a chassis, Woods said.
“We’re hoping for later this year,” he said. “The suppliers are telling us that they can’t get their hands on those chassis, in some cases, for a couple of years.”
In Penobscot County, Nuding placed an order for two radio communication antennas on Dec. 29. He just got the shipping confirmation that they’ll be delivered this week, he said.
The equipment allows someone to leave the Penobscot Regional Communications Center and provide dispatching assistance to emergency responders at an incident or planned event. The antennas are placed on expandable masts and help especially in areas where radio coverage is problematic, Nuding said.
“These antennas fill that gap,” he said. “The intent of doing in-the-field communications is that agencies have a direct 911 operator assigned to them.”
Emergency management agencies are also wrestling with fluctuating prices. Directors write grants for the amount that equipment will cost, but by the time the money comes through, prices have often jumped, Woods said.
Sometimes this means counties have to scale back, he said. Woods was able to work with a grant administrator to ensure the agency could afford all 15 thermal imaging cameras, but fulfilling that likely means losing out on another project later, he said.