By Ed Runyan
Though Monday technically was the last day for the Warren Fire Department’s two-year, $5 million federal staffing grant, the city isn’t saying farewell yet to about 20 firefighters getting paid by the grant.
Fire Chief Ken Nussle said Monday he’s been advised the department can continue to use the remaining funds from the grant through the end of the year.
Nussle said the city applied in August for a second $5 million Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and last week applied for an extension that would allow the city to use the $2 million of the original grant that hasn’t yet been spent.
Nussle said he feels that Homeland Security and its Federal Emergency Management Agency have been hampered in recent months in awarding additional grants because of the federal budgeting process and the onslaught of Hurricane Sandy early this month.
“There were no new awards since Oct. 5,” Nussle said. “Hopefully they’ll start sending more grant notices this week, and we’ll be on one of them, I hope.”
Nussle said last month there was about $2 million of the November 2010 grant money left because it took a little while in the fall of 2010 to bring back 10 firefighters laid off in 2009, and several months more to hire 14 additional firefighters in the spring of 2011.
That meant the department wasn’t using all of the money provided in the grant.
The SAFER grant allowed the city to restore its staffing level to 75 firefighters, which was the number the city had before the recession-induced layoff of January 2009.
Before the city received the grant, it had 51 firefighters and operated only one of its three firehouses.
When asked at a Warren City Council finance committee meeting recently what he would do if the city no longer had the SAFER grant, Mayor Doug Franklin said the city would have to come up with additional funding for firefighters.
“Our goal is to keep enough firefighters to keep open all three [fire] stations,” Franklin said.
He wasn’t specific as to how many firefighters would be needed to make that happen.
In addition to the central fire station on South Street Southeast, the city has satellite stations on Parkman Road Northwest and Atlantic Street Northeast.