By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
LINCOLN PARK – The Fire Department was awarded a federal grant to hire six full-time firefighters for three years, Fire Chief Steve Martin announced at the Oct. 16 City Council meeting.
The Council voted unanimously night to accept the grant.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency and Department of Homeland Security award a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant provides 75 percent of the firefighter wages and benefits for the first two years and 35 percent for the third year.
The grant will award $1.3 million, and will run from March 22, 2018 through March 21, 2021.
Martin said the Fire Department was awarded a cost share waiver, which further reduces the amount the city would have to pay.
Waivers may be granted when a community can document that it is under an economic hardship, such as being placed under third party financial oversite or receivership within the previous three years.
Martin said the department responds to more than 6,000 emergency runs a year, which include fires, vehicle accidents and medical emergencies, and having sufficient personnel to respond without constantly having to invoke mutual aid is a priority.
City Manager Matthew Coppler said the grant will allow the city to fill one of the open positions the department currently has, which will save the city money in the first two years.
“In the first two years we are actually saving about $143,000,” Coppler said. “There is a benefit definitely the first two years, it will save us money. Then the third year it’s pretty much a wash because between the money we save and what the cost would be.”
Martin said the grant will increase department staffing levels by two people a day.
“That in itself is going to open up a lot of doors right now we are not able to open by ourselves,” Martin said. “We are going to get more critical tasks complete that we are not able to do right now.”
He said if the department responds to a call with four firefighters, it has an officer in charge who has to remain outside, and an engineer who operates the pumps, who has to stay outside, which leaves two firefighters to go into the structure.
“This (grant) gives you the extra two people to fulfill the ‘two-in, two-out’ rule,” Martin said. “It still doesn’t get us to where we need to be, but it is definitely a lot safer.
“There are a lot of critical jobs that aren’t being completed where we have had to triple and quadruple up the amount of work that we are doing, which is going to increase the likelihood of being injured, getting hurt.”
Martin said the grant will reduce reliance on mutual aid partners.
“We just had a fire the other day at Fort (and) Park,” he said. “We ended up having to call two mutual aid cities for just your average residential house fire because we only had four guys on duty. We just don’t have enough to get that done.”
(Sue Suchyta can be reached at [email protected])