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Tacoma: Fire Department wins $7.7 million grant, saving 37 firefighter jobs and closing part of budget gap

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on June 22, 2012 at 12:00 am |
June 22, 2012 11:59 am

Tacoma’s fire department has won a $7.7 million federal grant that will save 37 firefighter jobs and solve a big part of an increasingly urgent city budget shortfall, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell’s office announced Thursday.

“This is a very competitive grant process, so the significant amount of this award really shows the need,” said Scott Whiteaker, a spokesman for Cantwell. “The loss of these 37 firefighters would have equated to losing at least three of the city’s fire engine companies.”

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell announces a grant to preserve firefighter jobs Friday

Acceptance of the Federal Emergency Management Agency grant award also ensures no firefighter in Tacoma can be laid off for two years.

Cantwell, who helped city officials lobby for the grant, will join Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland and other top city and fire union officials at Tacoma Fire headquarters Friday to give further details about the award, Whiteaker said.

Since February, city and union officials have waited and wondered whether good news would come about Tacoma’s application for FEMA’s Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response (SAFER) grant. The highly competitive grant provides funding to fire agencies nationwide to increase and retain front-line responders in local communities.

City Manager T.C. Broadnax had held out hope Tacoma would land all or part of the fire grant, plus a federal Department of Justice COPS grant applied for to fund 20 police jobs, as a way to close a lingering $11 million hole in the city’s 2011-12 general fund.

The city must balance its budget by year’s end. If the grants did not come through, city officials have said layoffs were likely.

On Tuesday, Broadnax told city council members the decision on the fire grant was “looming.” Meantime, an award announcement for the COPS grant likely won’t come until September, officials have said.

The Tacoma Fire Department, which also won a $1.56 million SAFER grant in 2010 to hire 10 firefighters, received the full amount applied for this year. The grant restricts the city from laying off any firefighter during the award’s 24-month funding term.

Earlier this year, Strickland joined top police and fire union officials in Washington D.C. to lobby FEMA and Justice Department officials for the grants.

Cantwell and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Norm Dicks sent letters of support for the FEMA grant, Whiteaker said. Police union officials also sought help from U.S. Representatives Dave Reichert and Adam Smith.

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