The Press Democrat- Healdsburg gets federal grant to hire firefighter
By: Clark Mason
Jun 16, 2012 -
Healdsburg firefighters are accustomed to coming to the rescue of others. Now the federal government is coming to the aid of the strapped Fire Department with a $325,000 federal grant to beef up staffing.
“We are thrilled to have received the grant, because what it does is allow us to fully fund a 40-hour firefighter position,” City Manager Marjie Pettus said. “It’s fantastic news.”
The grant was announced by Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena. Paid out over two years, it was awarded through the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program of the Department of Homeland Security. Thompson said the grants help the economy and help save lives.
“We’re helping our fire departments recruit, hire and retain firefighters,” he said in a statement.
Healdsburg Fire Chief Steve Adams said in a statement that the grants increasingly are vital to maintain staffing to effectively and safely respond to emergencies.
The grant will pay for the “entire package” of salary, benefits and retirement for a fire engineer for two years, Adams said in an interview.
Unlike some other grants, the city is not required to pick up the cost of the position after that, although Adams said he hoped it would be able to.
The Fire Department, which has a budget of $2.4 million, is down to nine paid staff members, including the chief and fire marshal. It also has up to 26 reserve firefighters.
The department relies heavily on volunteers, but often they have responsibilities at other jobs and can’t respond during the day when most needed.
“Fire Department staffing levels were cut in prior years,“ Pettus said, explaining that in 2009-2010, the number of personnel on engine calls was reduced to two. A parttime position and a seasonal firefighter helped fill the gap, but this year, those positions were eliminated from the budget.
Adams warned that two firefighters on an engine were not enough, particularly for medical calls. He said it could lead to back or spine injuries for firefighters who are transporting people out of the bathroom or down the stairs. The grant will ensure there are three firefighters on each engine call.
“This grant plugs that hole,” Pettus said.
The local firefighter’s union is doing its part to stretch the department’s finances as well, said Capt. Jason Boaz, union president. The seven-member union just agreed to concessions that, if approved by the City Council, should save the city $77,000, mostly from the firefighters paying more toward retirement and medical benefits, Boaz said. The Department of Homeland Security will award about $380 million this fiscal year to fire departments and volunteer support groups to augment the number of firefighters available, Thompson said.