Fire departments awarded grants
By Ashley Luthern
Four local fire departments were awarded federal grants Tuesday, but one of them isn’t sure it will accept the money.
Bazetta Fire Department will receive $83,508 and Austintown Fire Department will receive $85,655 through the Assistance to Firefighters Grants program of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Salem and Boardman fire departments will receive $301,648 and $334,646, respectively, in cooperation with the U.S. Fire Administration.
The funds were awarded through the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Program.
The grant can be used for recruitment and retention of volunteer firefighters and hiring firefighters, and the funds provide for salaries, benefits, and general equipment needs, according to U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s office.
Boardman Township officials, however, are not sure if they will accept the grant.
Boardman Fire Chief James Dorman said the grant would be used to recall three firefighters who were laid off over a two-year period.
But one of the grant’s requirements is that the fire department could not dip below current staffing levels for the next two years, Dorman said.
The department has 34 firefighters and three fire inspectors.
“You have to weigh that decision out. If you default [on the grant terms] you have to pay it all back,” he said.
The concern is that there will not be enough funding to keep staffing levels up, said township Administrator Jason Loree.
“Free money’s not always free,” Loree said of the grant.
The trustees have said previously that if the 3.85-mill additional police levy fails in May, 20 or more of the 132 township employees could be laid off. The layoffs would affect all departments, including fire, Loree said.
He said the township does have time before deciding to accept the grant and likely will wait until after the May 3 vote on the police levy.
The township ran into a similar situation last spring when it was awarded a one-time $413,148 federal grant to provide the starting salary for two police officers for three years.
That grant stipulated that the township pay for a fourth year.
At their Jan. 24 meeting, the trustees agreed to have Police Chief Jack Nichols accept the police grant.
That night Nichols told the trustees that from his experience, once a grant is awarded and rejected by an entity, it is more difficult to secure grants in the future.