Posts Tagged Department of Homeland Security’s Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) program

Cicero Fire Department news

Excerpts from mysuburbanlife.com:

The Cicero Fire Department has been awarded a nearly $1.48 million grant through the Department of Homeland Security to help with hiring expenses.

The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant program provides needed federal funds to fire departments and emergency medical service organizations in order to improve the response capabilities of fire departments and the safety of communities.

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Oak Lawn Fire Department news

Excerpts from an editorial at the ChicagoTribune.com:

I have come to expect the Village of Oak Lawn administration to twist any local challenge into an indictment of the firefighters who protect the citizens in the community. 

It’s become a predictable pattern due to Village Manager Larry Deetjen’s unhealthy obsession to slash the fire department staffing levels at any cost.

However, I must admit the latest maneuver by Deetjen did catch me by surprise because it flies in the face of common sense and sound financial stewardship. He recently announced the village might choose to walk away from the grant if he’s unsuccessful in extorting concessions from the Oak Lawn Firefighter’s Union.

First — kudos to the Oak Lawn Fire Department Administration for taking the initiative and being awarded a $1.35 million SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) Grant from the federal government. The grant to hire seven full-time firefighters was awarded in response to the department’s application for assistance to maintain nationally recognized staffing levels to best provide emergency services.

However, the real winners here are the Oak Lawn taxpayers. Despite Deetjen’s spin, the SAFER grant will save the village over $1.5 million dollars in existing overtime costs over the next three years. Period.

Despite what Deetjen might have you believe, the seven firefighters who stand to be hired using the grant will not be used to increase the daily fire department staffing at an additional cost. Instead, they will be used to backfill daily vacancies caused by a significant decrease in personnel over the past decade — an unfortunate result of Deetjen’s quest to reduce public safety levels in the village.

The only real decision is to pay for personnel using Oak Lawn taxpayer dollars or by bringing federal dollars back to Illinois. It’s that simple.

Although I would normally disagree with Deetjen’s recent statement to the village board that decisions regarding staffing a fire department are business and not about public safety, in this case it can be both.

I hope the village manager and mayor can temporarily set aside their animosity and take a win for the fire department, the village and its taxpayers.

Either way the Oak Lawn firefighters will continue to provide the exceptional emergency services you’ve come to know and expect.

Pat Devaney, president of the Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois

thanks Dan

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McHenry County fire departments struggle with staffing

Excerpts from the NorthwestHerald.com:

 As a part-time firefighter, Jonathan Fleck isn’t eligible to receive health insurance through the Huntley Fire Protection District. But after seven years, he is getting a little help.

Along with the Cary and the Rutland-Dundee fire protection districts, and the Sugar Grove Fire Department, Huntley is going to split a $1.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to provide part-time firefighters with an incentive to stay over the next four years.

As long as he completes six hours of training and works six shifts a month, Fleck and other part-timers in Huntley will receive a $75 monthly stipend that goes directly to health care, child care, college education, or a retirement plan.

Because part-time firefighters receive lower pay, no benefits and fewer perks than their full-time counterparts, local fire officials have to get creative when it comes to retention and recruitment. For some, that means offering a financial incentive, while others choose to tout their ability to prepare firefighters for a full-time job in the field.

Huntley Chief Ken Caudle said his department consists of about 30 part-timers and 58 full-time firefighters. Ideally, Caudle wants to have 35 part-time employees, but he struggles to find candidates who want to go through rigorous and time-consuming training to work a shift a week as a firefighter/paramedic for about $17 or $18 an hour.

It’s a problem local departments share because they often are working with the same part-time employees.

“A lot of our guys have become full time in other departments, but they will come in on their day off to protect their own community,” Cary Fire Chief Jeffrey Macko said.

Under the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant, they hope to be able keep and build on their pool of part-timers.

Only 8 percent of the fire departments in the country were staffed entirely by career firefighters as of January, and none of them are in McHenry County, according to the U.S. Fire Administration’s National Fire Department Census.

Most of the fire departments in McHenry County are made up with a majority of part-time firefighters. Only two departments in the county – the Crystal Lake Fire Rescue Department and the Huntley Fire Protection District – are mostly career, meaning 51 percent to 99 percent of their staff are full time.

At the Richmond Fire Protection District, Chief Rick Gallas is the only full-time firefighter in a station that’s staffed 24 hours a day. Adding more full-time firefighters isn’t an option because of tax revenue, but he’s got a system to make his department work.

“Our goal is to get them in, get them training and use them for five to seven years depending on the hiring process for career departments,” Gallas said. “Then we’re going to lose them.”

Gallas is in the middle of his annual recruitment drive to find five to 10 candidates within a 10-mile radius of the town who can go through the department’s mini-academy to prepare them to get their Firefighter Basic Certificate. The fire department splits the $2,400 cost with the trainee.

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Oak Lawn unclear on pursuing Safer Grant

An article in the Oak Lawn Leaf

A proposal to investigate Safer Grants to fully fund the salaries of two new firefighters for two to three years was met with resistance, despite the fact that the Village of Oak Lawn will soon not have enough firefighters to meet its contractual obligation due to upcoming retirements.

Trustee Robert Streit asked the mayor and trustees to consider applying for a Safer Grant immediately. The village began the year with 76 firefighters and will be down to 72 by July 1st. The village has not hired any new firefighters since 2007. The staffing is down from a high of 108 through attrition and the failure to replace the firefighters.

The village has waged a legal battle with the firefighters’ union over the concept of minimum manning. The Oak Lawn Professional Firefighters Association Local 3405 and the village battled over this issue with the firefighters filing an unfair labor practice against the village for refusing to bargain on the issue.  The Illinois Labor Relations Board ruled against the village and that decision was upheld by the Illinois Appellate Court in 2011.

Phillip Kazanjian, an administrative law judge who issued an opinion in August of 2010, was one of two judges who heard testimony regarding the minimum manning issue. Judge Kazanjian also heard an unfair labor charge regarding the village’s decision to lay off firefighters. Oak Lawn’s current board majority has continued to pursue a change to the minimum manning law and has blamed the fire department for service cuts in other areas due to overtime.

The goal of a SAFER Grant (Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response) is to improve and restore fire department staffing so they may more effectively respond to and mitigate emergencies.  Streit raised the issue of applying for the grants by citing statistics including Fire Chief George Sheets’ statement that this year was the  deadliest in the history of Oak Lawn for fire deaths.

Deetjen said the village is preparing an application but it will require the cooperation of the union, implying that the union would have to make concessions for the village to support applying for a grant.   According to sources within the fire department, Deetjen remains opposed to adding additional firemen unless the firefighters’ union agrees to reduce the minimum manning provision.  Firefighters were recently told by Fire Chief George Sheets that the Village of Oak Lawn will not pursue the Safer Grant to add firefighters unless the union gives in to Deetjen’s demand.

The failure to adhere to the contract could lead the village into more litigation with the fire department if the firefighters file another unfair labor practice.  The village has incurred outstanding legal liabilities of over one million dollars in its unsuccessful battles with the firefighters.

thanks Dan

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Naperville gets SAFER grant

The Daily Herald has an article about the Naperville FD being awarded a SAFER grant;

Staffing a fire department can be a challenging task of shifting numbers and hours and personnel, but the job got a bit easier for Naperville Chief Mark Puknaitis with the recent announcement of more than $1 million in grant funding to pay salaries and benefits over the next two years.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency gave Naperville the money through the SAFERprogram, which stands for Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response.

Puknaitis said the funds likely will allow his department to hire three firefighter/paramedics. The hiring will help fill a void left by attrition over the past few years, which has resulted in six vacant firefighter/paramedic positions and two vacant administrative positions.

“It’s important because it’s a million dollars and it’s something that is going to help us maintain our staffing levels in the fire department,” Puknaitis said.

Any firefighter/paramedics hired using the SAFER grant money, which totals $1,002,000, would work in the operations division. Puknaitis said Naperville currently has 185 operations personnel split into three 24-hour shifts.

The chief will work with the city’s finance department to form a budget and determine exactly how many new firefighter/paramedics he can hire using the SAFER grant.

Recruitment to fill the positions must begin within 90 days of the city receiving the grant, and the city must maintain its previous staffing level and the new positions for the two-year duration of the funding.

Puknaitis said about 2,500 fire departments across the nation applied for the SAFER funding and only between 300 and 350 received it.

thanks Dan

Also, from the Naperville Sun … apparently Naperville’s firefighting agency also got a grant …

Naperville’s firefighting agency will be getting a hand with covering its staffing expenses, thanks to more than $1 million in federal grant money announced by local lawmakers.

The offices of U.S. Rep. Bill Foster (D-Naperville) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) notified the city of the $1,002,000 award, part of the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response program administered through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The grant program is designed to help prevent staff cuts or to rehire responders who have been let go because of funding constraints.

“It is critical that we make sure our first responders have the tools they need to keep our communities safe,” Foster said in a news release.

Naperville Fire Department Chief Mark Puknaitis said the city applied for the SAFER funds last year. The department currently has six vacancies in its operations division, he said, and several current firefighters plan to retire this year.

The wave of retirees was not unexpected. When the city’s growth boom was gaining steam in the late 1970s and early ’80s, firefighters were being hired in groups of 15 or more, the chief said. During that period, the city’s three fire stations increased to the 10 in use today.

“Our department is in a natural progression of people retiring,” Puknaitis said. “We’re going to see that trend continue, in the next five to 10 years for sure.”

While the new hires will be paid less, he noted the flip side is that they will not bring to the job the body of experience in public safety that has been accrued among those leaving the profession.

“We need to have the funding to replace them,” said the chief, emphasizing that his department minimizes personnel costs as much as possible, and applies for grants at nearly every opportunity. “An award like this helps me tremendously in getting approval for positions that I have in my budget. … It’s not, ‘Hey we’ve got extra money so let’s put a couple more people on.’”

The money, to be funneled to the department over the next two years, is required to go to personnel and benefits. It can’t be used for such purposes as remodeling a firehouse or buying new equipment, Puknaitis said.

“A million bucks over two years is huge,” he said. “And they don’t give that kind of money to just anybody.”

thanks Chris

firefighting agency … are you kidding me?

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Federal grant for North Chicago

According to the City of North Chicago website:

Federal Grant sparks hiring initiative at North Chicago Fire Department
$764,000 FEMA grant to aid in hiring of up to six firefighters

North Chicago, IL (March 20, 2013) – North Chicago Mayor Leon Rockingham announced … it will bolster the ranks of the city’s fire department by adding as many as six new firefighters.  The hiring initiative, which will allow the Department to more fully staff each shift, comes thanks to a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant.

The grant, which is funded through the Department of Homeland Security’s Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) program, provides the North Chicago Fire Department with $764,000 to hire and train six firefighters/paramedics.

Mayor Rockingham thanked US Senator Dick Durbin and Congressman Brad Schneider for supporting efforts to secure the funding, which is part of a Department of Homeland Security program to help local fire departments maintain 24-hour staffing and ensure that they are able to adequately provide emergency services to communities.

The City applied for the grant in August 2012, citing attrition of experienced firefighters and EMS professionals in the department as a need to bolster staffing.

“Our nation’s firefighters are called upon day after day to protect America’s citizens,” Durbin said. “As these brave men and women put themselves in harm’s way, we must ensure that our fire departments have enough trained firefighters and that they are equipped with the best resources possible to do their jobs well.”

“I am so happy that North Chicago has earned grants that will allow them to enhance operations and hire more critically-needed firefighters,” Schneider said. “Our dedicated first responders put their lives on the line to protect us every day from harm, and it’s essential we provide them with the resources they need to keep our communities safe.”

The City maintains a list of eligible, potential employees based on an entrance exam it administered last fall.   Candidates for the positions will be individuals whose names are on that list.

North Chicago Fire Chief Dell Urban said news of the grant was welcomed enthusiastically by members of the Department, who can now look forward to more robust coverage on shifts and emergency calls.

“We’re doing a great job with the resources we have, but any firefighter or paramedic will tell you that having more men and women in the department makes us all safer and better equips us to respond to emergencies and serve North Chicago residents more effectively,” said Urban.  “Our firefighters are always working hard to secure available resources so that we can perform our jobs at the highest level possible.  They should be commended for their work to secure this funding.”

Rockingham has asked Urban to move quickly to begin the hiring process.  Both expect to bring new professionals on board within the next two months.

 

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