By Ed Runyan
The Warren Fire Department received word on Tuesday that it has been awarded six more months to spend some of the remaining funds from its Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The extension allows the department to keep the firefighters hired with the grant through May 26, 2013, Fire Chief Ken Nussle said.
About $2.5 million of the $5 million grant remains, and six more months will not be enough time to use up the remaining funds, but six months is the maximum amount of time the grant can be extended, Nussle said.
Without the extension, many of the 25 firefighters either brought back from layoff or hired with the grant would have gone on layoff around the first of the year.
“It’s good news because the SAFER grant increased the safety of the firefighters and the safety of the citizens,” Nussle said.
Nussle noted that the city has applied for another SAFER grant and is hopeful that will be approved also, but because of the financial uncertainty the city has had in recent years, “We take it one day at a time,” he said.
John Fortune of Geneva, one of the firefighters hired in February 2011, said the extension means he won’t have to return to his job as an ambulance worker.
“I’m definitely excited about it,” he said. “Firefighter is what I want to do with for my career.”
J.R. Bartolone of Massillon, who started in April 2011, said the announcement “gives us a little more time. Hopefully the second grant will come through and give us a little more time.”
The city received a $5 million SAFER grant in the fall of 2010, which allowed the Warren Fire Department to bring back 10 firefighters laid off in early 2009 and 14 additional firefighters in the spring of 2011.
The grant, which paid for the salary and benefits for 25 firefighters for two years, was set to expire Nov. 26, 2012. Nussle said, however, he was informed the department could continue to draw on the remaining funds through the end of the year until the federal government could decide whether to allow the city to extend the grant further or acquire a second one.
The city laid off 11 firefighters in January 2009 and left several firefighting vacancies empty to reduce the city’s budget just after the start of the U.S. recession.
The department had 51 firefighters just before the SAFER grant was approved and has about 70 now.