Ohio counties awarded $3.7M in federal grants to boost staffing
The hiring grants pay for 75% of the salaries and benefits for new hires for the first two years and 35% in the third year
By Denise G. Callahan
Journal-News, Hamilton, Ohio
WARREN COUNTY, Ohio — Multiple Butler and Warren county fire departments were awarded almost $3.7 million in federal grants to boost their staffing.
Liberty Twp. will receive the largest chunk, at $1.36 million in funding from Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response and Assistance to Firefighters (SAFER) grants to hire nine firefighters. Fairfield ($1.26 million for hiring), Franklin ($1 million for hiring) and Ross Twp. ($60,011 for operations and safety) also were awarded grants.
The hiring grants pay for 75 percent of the salaries and benefits for two years and 35 percent in the third year. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, made the announcement Tuesday.
“Ohio firefighters and first responders work every day to protect our families,” Brown said. “We must support our first-responder organizations so that communities in Southwest Ohio have the resources to shield families and homes from fire hazards.”
SAFER is a competitive national program through the Department of Homeland Security. It provides funds for hiring, recruiting and retaining front-line and volunteer firefighters to create an overall net increase in the number of trained, certified, and competent firefighting units capably responding to emergencies in their communities. Only 364 jurisdictions were selected to receive funding.
Homeland Security awarded 1,623 AFG grants for training, equipment upgrades and facility modifications.
Liberty Twp. Fire Chief Ethan Klussman said he was “ecstatic” when he learned the township won the grant because there are thousands of agencies vying for the funds. This was the first time the township competed for the funding.
“We’ve been working towards a plan which would add career Firefighter/EMT positions, and being awarded FEMA’s SAFER grant allows us to expedite our process,” Klussman said. “Adding nine full-time positions will allow us to provide the consistent personnel we need to run the department more efficiently and stretch our budget dollars further.”
Communities across the state and Butler County are struggling due to a lack of part-time firefighters/EMTs. Local chiefs say younger people are not as interested in the profession as in past years. Liberty Twp. Trustee Tom Farrell has said the township would prefer to have an entirely full-time department but that isn’t possible, although the SAFER grant gets them closer.
“Full-time firefighters have a higher cost but it isn’t just about the cost it’s also about longevity, it’s about keeping employees, having employees that are out there that know the township well because its their full time position,” he said.
“Part-timers cost us a lot more money than it looks on paper, because the part-timers don’t have that longevity, many of them don’t stay very long, so we’re constantly hiring, training.”
Liberty Twp. Trustee Board President Steve Schramm said full-time staff ends up working many overtime hours when part-timers are not available, which is even more expensive. The grant award should also allow the township to extend the life of its fire levy.
“Our budget, with that last levy we were pushing it out to 10 years without this grant,” he said. “So to me this did nothing but solidify our ability to extend our budget out with the present levy for at least ten years.”
Trustee Christine Matacic doesn’t think the five-year levy will stretch 10 years, even with the grant. She said six or seven years is more realistic to her, but the new money is certainly welcome.
“It is a tremendous help not only for the financial end but from the services end and the reliability of having the personnel on hand when we need them,” she said. “And as we grow.”
Fire chiefs in the other communities could not be reached for comment.
©2019 the Journal-News (Hamilton, Ohio)