Two Pierce County fire departments – Tacoma and DuPont - have received federal grants to hire a total of 13 “front line” firefighters to bolster sagging staffing levels.
Tacoma announced today that it received $1,566,699 to pay salary and expenses over the next two years for 10 new firefighters.
The City of DuPont Fire Department received $540,750 in January to hire three new firefighters.
The money comes through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grants program. The local departments are among four in the state to receive money.
“It’s great news,” said Tacoma Fire spokesman Joe Meinecke. “We were hoping to get it.”
Meinecke explained that the due to budget constraints the department hasn’t had a recruiting class since 2008 and is down 33 positions from its budgeted staff of 409 firefighters. He said they have enough front line firefughters to maintain a safe minimum number of 72firefighters on duty per shift.
He said city officials authorized a 24-person recruit class that will start next month to begin closing the staffing gap. The federal money now will pay for 10 of those positions.
DuPont Fire Department Operations Chief Greg Cooper said the grant will enable the city to have a minimum of three firefighters available 24/7. Currently there are only two minimum which is not a safe staffing level, he said.
“We were very appreciative of the grant,” Cooper said, “though it’s not surprising. SAFER grants are for departments like our that lost positions due to the economy. We thought we would be successful.”
The hires will up the number of DuPont “front line” firefighters from 9 to 12.
Under terms of the grant, Tacoma is required to support the grant positions for at least a third year.
Due to its size, Cooper said DuPont isn’t required to pay for the third year, adding the city will find a way to keep the positions.