FEMA extended the deadline to accept federal fire grant


By Samantha Phillips

sphillips@vindy.com

GIRARD

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has extended the deadline for the city to accept a grant to hire more firefighters, but the administration’s decision to reject it likely won’t change, Mayor James Melfi said.

The cost to the city is too high, he said.

FEMA awarded a $281,247 Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant to the Girard Fire Department in September to hire three additional firefighters/paramedics. The grant would start March 2019 and end March 2022.

The new deadline to decide is Nov. 14.

To get the grant, the city would have to provide $174,828 for the grant period, which breaks down to $38,006 the first two years, and $98,816 the third, according to the grant document.

Melfi said the true cost could be higher when factors such as benefits are added.

The city may have supported the grant if it was used to replace retiring firefighters, Melfi added, but FEMA officials told them it had to be used to increase staff levels.

“That grants runs out in 2022, and then the city would be totally responsible for those three firefighters,” he said. “That creates an impending financial disaster in this community.”

Currently, the fire department has 13 firefighters. Before the city’s fiscal emergency in 2001, Girard had 16 firefighters. The city was in fiscal emergency for about a decade.

Melfi said the fire department has operated safely for years at the current staffing levels.

City firefighter and Local 1220 union secretary Brian Pearson believes the cost would be offset by overtime savings. The department has been paying about $140,000 annually to keep at least three people on-duty, he said.

“The grant is a cost-savings solution,” he said.

Melfi said the grant application states the fire department intended to maintain the higher staff level after the grant ended.

Luke Grunder, city firefighter and Local 1220 union president, suggested the department could lay off the additional firefighters and keep the staff level at 13 firefighters, or apply for more grants when the grant is done to maintain them.

The higher overtime this year happened because the department was down a couple full-time firefighters, but having part-timers and a new full-time firefighter – who started work on Wednesday – will help balance it out, Melfi said.

Pearson said having more staff would allow the fire department to have at least four people per shift and be compliant with National Fire Protection Association standards, allow them to do their jobs more efficiently and decrease the chance of firefighter injuries or fatalities.

“We want to be safe so we can go home to our families,” he said.

Melfi acknowledged it’s a difficult decision, but said the city has to be fiscally responsible – and that city council backs the administration’s position.

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