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King George officials address their shortage of fire and rescue workers by applying for a federal grant to hire 12 people
Date published: 8/9/2012
King George officials hope the federal government will help with their shortage of fire and rescue workers, both paid and volunteer.
The Board of Supervisors decided on Tuesday to apply for $868,000 in grants through SAFER, Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response.
If the county gets the grants, it would hire nine firefighters at the Fairview Beach station and three battalion captains for Co. 1 headquarters off State Route 3.
The positions cost $801,000, and the grant would cover the salaries for two years. Then, presumably, King George would pick up the costs.
The county also is asking for $67,000 to help recruit and retain volunteers. Most of that money would be spent on uniforms and firefighter gear for the 30 volunteers the county hopes to recruit in the next four years. Supervisors discussed asking for three different amounts and decided to go for the middle option instead of the most--or least--expensive one.
"It gets us 24/7 [coverage], it's a reasonable request, and we could cover that in a couple years," said Supervisor Joe Grzeika. "We feel comfortable that we would be able to sustain these folks."
Departments in other localities have hired firefighters through the grant, then laid them off when the funding expired.
"That's not what we're about," Grzeika said. "We're about building a class-act fire system."
The need for grants arose because recent reports have stated the county's dire shortage of manpower has created "a dangerous and dysfunctional system." Fire officials have said in recent months they needed 21 people to staff the county's three fire and rescue stations around the clock--but had only 10 in place.
Reports also said the county's number of volunteers wasn't adequate to fill in the gaps, especially at Fairview Beach, a station that hasn't been in operation for more than two years.
Hiring more fire and rescue workers was discussed during budget talks this spring, but no new positions were included.
Supervisors on Tuesday enthusiastically approved applying for the grants. The deadline is Friday, but fire and rescue officials started the paperwork last month.
The federal program has $320 million in grants, which will be awarded from September 2012 through September 2013.
It's divided into two categories: recruiting volunteers and hiring new workers.
The money for volunteer recruitment is awarded up front and is designed to be spread over four years, said Fire and Rescue Chief David Moody.
The hiring portion of the grant has three priorities: rehiring laid-off firefighters, retaining those facing layoffs and hiring new ones.
The grant covers a worker's salary, benefits and insurance, but not overtime, worker's compensation, physicals, training or uniforms and equipment.
There's no obligation when applying for the grant, and the county doesn't have to provide any financial match, Moody said.
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425