October 8, 2013

Turlock approves grant application that could fund firefighter jobs

Turlock City Council gives the OK to the Turlock Fire Department to apply for a grant that could fund three new firefighters over two years. The federal Staffing of Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) Grant could bring in some $589,685 to the city.

The Turlock Fire Department could hire three more firefighters if approved for a federal grant.

Turlock’s City Council gave the OK to Turlock Fire Chief Tim Lohman to apply for a grant that could fund three positions for two years. The Staffing of Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grant could bring in about $589,685 to the city.

Some 2,500 fire departments are expected to apply for the Federal Emergency Management Agency grant, and about 300 will be selected to receive the funding.

The competitive grant is meant to help local fire departments across the country maintain staffing required by the fire service to deal with emergencies. Distribution of $321 million in grants is set to begin Nov. 1, though could be delayed by the ongoing federal government shutdown.

The grants pay for 100 percent of salary and benefits for firefighters over a two-year period.

The Fire Department must maintain its staffing levels throughout the two years but is not required to hire the additional firefighters after the grant period is over. No local match is required for the grant, though the department would have to pay for equipment, exams and other incidentals involved with hiring, which total about $30,000.

The Turlock Fire Department received a SAFER Grant in 2010 and was able to increase its staffing to 45 line personnel. The city had committed to having 48 firefighters in 2005, but those numbers have declined because of the recession – dropping to 42.

In June, the council approved an additional $370,000 in deficit spending from the general fund to go toward police and fire overtime pay. The money was split between the two departments and went toward backfilling open positions with additional overtime.

The SAFER Grant would allow the Fire Department to cut its overtime spending and pay entirely for staffing at its Station 3. Lohman said the Fire Department would not need the additional funds allocated earlier this year if the grant is approved.

“We could essentially eliminate all of the overtime allocated to that,” he said.

After its last SAFER Grant, Lohman said the department was able to retain the firefighters hired by the funding because of retirements and attrition.

There would be no guarantee any firefighters hired through the grant would be able to maintain their positions past the two years, but Lohman said one to two retirements are expected during that time period.

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