BUCKHANNON – With a tight deadline, Buckhannon City Council voted last week to approve applying for a grant that would essentially lend a few more hands to the Buckhannon Fire Department.
At its March 21 meeting, council members voted unanimously to direct grant writer Callie Cronin Sams to apply for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant, known as the SAFER grant.
If awarded, the grant would provide the city’s fire department with the funding to hire three new employees.
The SAFER grant is specific to the hiring of new, non-existing firefighters, according to Sams.
Buckhannon Fire Chief J.B. Kimble said the grant was designed to recruit and hire paid career firefighters and has been utilized by volunteer fire departments to recruit volunteers.
Through the years, Kimble said the grant’s details have changed, noting at some point the grant awarded 100 percent funding for two years.
“The percentages have changed throughout the life of the SAFER grant,” he said.
Should the award be granted and council accept it, the city’s share would be 25 percent the first two years, then 65 percent the third year with 75 percent being federally funded the first two years.
The SAFER 2019 budget totals $669,902.55 over three years for three additional firefighters, and includes salary, benefits, turnout gear and training for the Firefighter 1 course.
The proposed grant application details the importance of having three additional career fighters, which would allow the department to run a fourth crew member on the engine.
“Additionally, the increased staff would reduce overtime and help meet the demands of the community,” reads the proposal. Improvement of record-keeping, maintenance, training and safety were also reasonings behind additional staffing.
Kimble has been vocal about the need for funding and staffing in the fire service industry as local fire departments are facing a decline in volunteers and a rise in emergency calls.
“We show the need because the lack of staffing and the call volume and the amount of risks we have in our community and as much mutual aid and automatic aid we provide for the rest of the communities in Upshur County and other counties, it’s a perfect opportunity for us to do that,” he said.
With the grant awarded over a three-year period, Kimble said that time span can be used to plan for funding to support new employees’ salaries and benefits. Should council receive and accept the grant, the entity would not be able to reapply for the grant after its three years are up.
“This is buying time for us to sit down with our community leaders and come up with the future of funding for emergency services in our town,” he said.
Before making a motion to submit the grant application, Mayor David McCauley suggested that a committee be formed to take a closer look at the fire service’s various issues.
“I think there needs to be some needs assessment done so that this council can better articulate the needs to the community that we serve by these three additional firefighters,” McCauley said.
The mayor recommended that he, Kimble, finance and administrative director Amberle Jenkins, councilman Robbie Skinner and Jeff Harvey of JH Consulting LLC serve on the committee. Kimble suggested that Lt. Joey Baxa with the BFD also serve on the board.
“The purpose of this vetting committee would be to have some discussion and then report back to council and then some more discussion and then report back to council, and then the next several months, if we would get what we think would be good news relative to the grant, then this council could make an enlightened decision to take the action one way or another,” McCauley said.
Council member Dave Thomas made a motion to apply for the grant and form the committee, which was seconded by councilwoman Pam Cuppari. The motion passed unanimously.