The staffing level at county fire stations is getting an upgrade, thanks in part to a $1.3 million federal grant that Volusia County Fire Rescue recently landed. The grant funds awarded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will pay for six new firefighters, including their salary and benefits, for the next three years.
In addition to the grantfunded firefighters, the county’s new FY 2021-22 budget approved by the County Council includes money to hire nine more firefighters, for a total of 15 new county firefighters about to come on line. Already, nine of the 15 have been hired and interviews are under way to fill the other six positions.
The county has been working for several years to bring the staffing levels up to at least three firefighters on every shift at all 18 structural fire stations in Volusia County staffed by county personnel.
SAFER grant program
Three years ago, the county had at least three firefighters stationed at just four of the 18 stations. Back in August, Public Protection Director Joe Pozzo told the County Council that boosting staffing levels has been a high priority for Fire Rescue. And now, when all of the new positions are filled, 16 of the 18 fire stations will be staffed with at least three firefighters around the clock.
“We’ve been hustling on this one,” Pozzo told council members. “We’ve looked at every staffing maneuver we can make to get as many (fire stations) as we can to three.”
The FEMA funds – $1,298,220.48 – are part of the federal SAFER grant program. SAFER, which stands for Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, is designed to help fire departments increase the number of front-line firefighters and comply with national staffing, response and operational standards.
The county was awarded a SAFER grant in 2019, but the program at that time required agency recipients to kick in some of the funds to pay for the new personnel during the first three years. This time, the SAFER grant is picking up all of the costs for the first three years.
Enhances response capabilities
The grant funds will be disbursed to the county over a three-year period – $421,905 the first year, $434,864.52 the second year and $441,450.96 the third year.
After the grant expires, the county will start paying for the six new firefighters. County officials have accounted for those added expenses in future budget projections for the fire fund.
“We aggressively went after this grant, and I’m extremely thankful to be receiving these FEMA funds,” said Volusia County Fire Chief Howard Bailey.
“While we already have a terrific fire rescue team, this grant will enhance our response capabilities and improve safety for both the community and our crews. This is really great news for our county.”