The Statesboro Fire Department, currently funded by the city for 45 certified, paid firefighters, is applying for a more than $2 million SAFER grant that would cover the first three years’ expense of employing 12 more.
In 2020, the department logged 1,214 calls for service, 320 of which were confirmed emergencies such as fires, rescues, explosions or gas leaks, SFD Chief Tim Grams showed in his recent annual report. Last year, the department and city had applied for a SAFER grant to add 22 firefighters, but it was not approved, in what officials note is a highly competitive grant process.
Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or SAFER, is a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant program designed to help fire departments comply with standards established by the National Fire Protection Association, or NFPA.
Adding 12 more firefighters would help the Statesboro Fire Department meet portions, but not all of the NFPA staffing standards, Grams said in an interview.
“As far as meeting the entire standard of how many people you should have, no, we need 22, which is why we asked for 22 last year, but if we get 12, it is going to help us meet the on-scene requirements,” he said.
To meet one specific NFPA standard, the Statesboro Fire Department must be able to place 15 firefighters on the scene within a certain amount of travel time in 90% of incidents.
“That’s what we’re working to meet,” Grams said. “There’s another NFPA standard that says every apparatus should be staffed with four people at all times. If we were to get 12, we wouldn’t have enough to meet that piece; we are meeting part of it.”
So, if the department secures the grant and hires 12 more firefighters, he would still look for ways to add others in the future, he acknowledged.
The NFPA is a nonprofit organization, and its standards are like goals, not a legal requirement.
Now a 100% grant
One change brought on by COVID-19 in 2020 makes the SAFER grant potentially more valuable to Statesboro but probably also increased competition for the grants. As of 2019 these grants were designed to cover 75% of the cost of employing firefighters the first two years and 35% the third year. But under the initial Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act of 2020, they were made 100%, three-year grants.
The old terms were still in effect when Statesboro’s previous grant application was discussed in spring 2020. Officials projected then that hiring 22 more firefighters would have cost the city $1.44 million and the federal government $2.32 million for the first three years, if the grant were approved.
Now, if approved, the federal grant would cover the salaries, benefits and other costs of employing 12 firefighters for three full years. Statesboro officials figure this cost at $745,884 a year, based on the SFD’s current starting salary. To keep the added firefighters, the city would have to pick up the full cost beginning the fourth year.
“So what you have before you at this time is, if we were to receive this, the grant would pay 100% for three years, and then we would be responsible for the full cost after that,” City Manager Charles Penny told the mayor and council Tuesday.
City Council unanimously approved applying for the grant again.
In fact, the switch to 100% federal funding also affected Statesboro’s previous application before it was complete, and apparently prompted more local governments across the country to apply, Grams said. A priority was also placed on using SAFER grants to rehire laid-off firefighters or prevent layoffs, but there was no danger of firefighter layoffs in Statesboro, he said.
Now Grams hopes the reduction to 12 added firefighters will help Statesboro’s 2021 application score higher in comparison to others with the SAFER review board.
Those 1,214 calls
Confirmed emergencies the Statesboro Fire Department responded to in 2020 included 184 fires; 14 overpressure incidents or explosions; 56 rescues, most of which were extrications from wrecked vehicles; 61 “hazardous conditions” incidents, such as gas leaks; one severe weather incident or natural disaster, and four “special” incidents.
Besides those 320 emergencies, the 1,214 calls for service included in the annual report Grams presented to the mayor and council in February included 281 “service” calls, 184 “good intent” calls, and 495 false alarms or false calls. This will be explained further in another story.
Staffing & training
The department is authorized for 50 total personnel, 45 of whom are certified firefighters in firefighting roles, including the chief and other officers. Two of the three certified fire prevention inspectors are also certified as firefighters, Grams said, and the department employs two administrative assistants.
His report included a chart indicating that the SFD firefighters averaged 315 Insurance Services Office-approved hours of training last year, giving them, on average, 110% of the ISO-required number of hours.
Although the Statesboro Fire Department did not receive the big SAFER grant applied for last year, it did receive $78,000 of grant funding, much of this an Assistance to Firefighters Grant for training and other purposes, also from FEMA.
“The overall message that I was trying to present to council and then also to the community is that we are constantly looking to add value and service to the Fire Department for the community and we are trying to stretch every dollar to the maximum effect, and one way we’ve done that is to pursue grants,” Grams said.