Last week, I wrote about Fire Department staffing and explained that there are times where the Fire Department goes below the required nine personnel on duty. While this can be for a variety of reasons, it is crucial that there be adequate coverage and protection for the people in Muscatine should major structure fires arise. While meeting with Chief Ewers, he expressed faith in Muscatine’s highly trained and dedicated firefighters who are capable of tackling any type of emergency that may arise.
The City of Muscatine and the Fire Department recognize the need for increased staffing and are working to address it. One of the ways we may be able to increase staffing is through being awarded the US Department of Homeland Security’s Staffing For Adequate Fire And Emergency Response (SAFER) Grant.
The Muscatine Fire Department has applied for this grant and is waiting to hear if they have been selected to receive it. The projected award end date is September 30, so they should hear sometime between now and then. There are three tiers of priorities for this grant: 1. Rehiring laid off firefighters, 2. Retention of firefighters who face imminent layoff or filling positions through attrition but not filled due to economic circumstances, and 3. Hiring new firefighters. The Fire Department has applied for funding to hire new firefighters, so their request falls into the third priority. This means they’ll be hearing later in the process, closer to the September 30 end date.
What is the purpose of the SAFER Grant?
According to the US Department of Homeland Security, “the SAFER Grant Program provides funding directly to fire departments and national, state, local or tribal organizations representing the interests of volunteer firefighters to assist them in increasing the number of firefighters to help fire departments meet industry minimum standards and attain 24-hour staffing to protect communities from fire and fire related hazards, and to fulfill traditional missions of fire departments.”
What would the SAFER Grant do for Muscatine?
If awarded the SAFER Grant, Muscatine would be granted $575,375 with no strings attached. The value of the grant would enable the Fire Department to hire four firefighters for two years. There are currently two shifts of 12 and one shift of 11 members. Hiring 4 new firefighters would bring the number in each shift up to 13, which is on par with other cities of comparable size.
What happens if we are not awarded the SAFER Grant?
Even if our community is not awarded the SAFER Grant, the Fire Department will continue to seek additional staff through the normal annual budgetary process. The budget request process allows staff and the City Council to see the “big picture” of city-wide needs. They can then prioritize those needs. The preference would be to add four members to the shift staffing (just as would be done immediately if awarded the SAFER Grant). It may need to be done in incremental stages as the budget or revenues allow. Hiring one new firefighter is the immediate preference so that the one shift of 11 members will be able to be at 12 like the other two shifts, thus reducing overtime.
Staffing and then funding for that staffing is a challenge city-wide. Determining how to best use the resources at hand will always bring about tough decisions. However, with the growth in calls for Fire Department service, the City is preparing a plan to meet those growing needs and ensure continued firefighter safety. The SAFER Grant will be a wonderful opportunity for Muscatine if we are selected to receive it. Even if we are not awarded the grant, staff will prepare a recommended plan of action to address staffing needs in the next budgeting cycle.