City has until Sunday to decide on federal fire grant
Mayor: Cost will be deciding factor
By Samantha Phillips
If the city does not accept the federal grant awarded to the fire department by Sunday, the department will lose it.
In September, the Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded the fire department a $281,247 Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant to hire three additional full-time firefighter/paramedics.
The grant would cost the city $38,006 the first and second year, and $98,816 the third year. The grant runs from March 2019 to March 2022.
Firefighter Brian Pearson told council at its Tuesday meeting there must be four firefighters on duty per shift to be compliant with National Fire Protection Association requirements, but due to current staffing levels, there are often three per shift.
He added using the grant to increase staffing levels will save money in the long run because the department can cut overtime costs. This year, Pearson said, overtime will cost about $225,000.
“You could save half a million dollars in overtime over three years and have four people on the firetruck everyday,” he said. “It’s important to move forward on this. ... It will be a great thing for the community, for the firefighters to ensure our safety and for fiscal responsibility.”
Fire Chief Ken Bornemiss added, “SAFER grants are designed to help communities bolster full-time staffing and eliminate overtime in both emergency call-outs, which is 40 percent of our overtime, and shift coverage, which is 60 percent of our overtime.”
Bornemiss introduced two full-time firefighters, Tom Cantola, who starts today, and Joe Danko, who started as a part-time firefighter last year, at the meeting.
He said Capt. Salvatore Ponzio retired late August, and firefighters are taking promotional exams to decide who will be appointed as a new captain. This brings full-time staff to 10 firefighters and two captains.
“I would like to see the grant accepted. It’s my opinion that it’s going to bolster our ranks and save the city money over the course of the grant,” he said.
Mayor James Melfi said he is unsure if the city will accept the grant, however. Cost will be the deciding factor, he said.
“We’ve had the same manpower for many years now without any safety problems,” he said. “We have operated the fire department very safely for years now, so we are comfortable with the manpower. If there are opportunities to save money, we always look to go forward with that, but it is yet to be determined.”
After the new firefighter starts today, it will bring the staff level to the federal standard, the mayor said.
Bornemiss said he is meeting with a compliance officer for the Public Employee Risk Reduction program, which will review factors such as gear quality and staffing levels.