A federal grant will help pay for three additional firefighters in Great Bend, Battalion Chief Eugene Perkins announced this week.
The Great Bend Fire Department was awarded a $322,359 SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grant. The grant will pay 75 percent of the new firefighters’ wages and benefits for the first two years and 35 percent the third year. After the third year, the city will be responsible for funding the entirety of their wages and benefits.
The three additional firefighters will raise the number of personnel on each of the three shifts from eight to nine.
GBFD Chief Mike Napolitano, who retired on Sept. 1, applied for the grant in February.
“This SAFER grant is such a blessing to our department,” Napolitano said. “For the past two years, Battalion Chief Eugene Perkins and I have been looking for ways to help fund extra personnel without putting the burden on the city’s budget. Battalion Chief Perkins has been extremely instrumental in preparing the grant, learning the process and striving for improvements, so we had a better chance at being awarded.”
According to Perkins, the idea behind the grant is to get more people to a fire scene quicker.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards for a structure fire in a suburban area state there should be 10 people on scene within 10 minutes. Meeting that standard hasn’t been easy.
“Each shift, when fully staffed, includes eight firefighters, and the fire chief makes nine. At least one off-duty firefighter also needs to be called to the scene, and a lot of times that was not happening within the 10-minute timeframe,” he said. “Getting another man per shift through the grant will make that possible.”
Now, the next challenge will be filling the positions, Perkins said. Napolitano’s retirement led to the promotion of Luke McCormick to Chief position, but left an opening, with one position already needing to be filled. The three grant-funded positions must also be filled in the next six months, meaning the department is looking to fill five spots.
“We’re going to have to be more active recruiting at area colleges with fire science programs,” he said. These include Dodge, Garden City, Hutchinson and Butler counties. “We’ve made arrangements in the past with students to hire them with the understanding they will finish their program and get their fire science degree.”
Applicants need Firefighter 1 certification and Emergency Medical Technician certification to be considered. A degree is not a requirement, Perkins said.