Citing the importance of keeping the fire department fully staffed, the Great Bend City Council Monday night authorized Mayor Mike Allison to sign a letter of support for Fire Chief Mike Napolitano to apply for a three-year grant through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Napolitano said the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) Grant as already been written and, if approved, would go for the hiring of three additional firefighters. The city applied for the grant last year and was not successful.
“The need for those firefighters still exists,” he said. The application deadline is Feb. 10.
Councilman Wayne Henneke wondered about after the grant is over in three years and keeping the three additional firefighters. “Unless you look at cuts in other areas, your looking at a two mill increase” in property taxes.
Napolitano said the city would save some money by having the additional personnel versus the overtime that is now paid to firefighters.
“It’s a catch 22,” Councilwoman Allene Owen said.
The motion passed 7-0.
A combustible situation
“If we were awarded this grant, it would benefit our department in at least three ways,” Napolitano said. First, it would reduce our need to hire back personnel to maintain our minimum staffing level of seven per shift. In 2016 1,856 hours of overtime were paid in order to maintain minimum staffing levels.
Second, it would bring us closer to compliance with the National Fire Protection Association standard of having 10 firefighters at structure fires and third, it would reduce our reliance on callbacks and mutual aid when we have overlapping calls. In 2016 overlapping calls occurred 595 times, or 26 percent of the time.
“We’ve been real fortunate that we’ve been able to make those calls,” Napolitano said. However, the day may come when simultaneous emergencies could be disastrous.
A city match
Last year the grant was for two years and was fully funded. This year it is for three years and requires a match of 25 percent the first two years and a match of 65 percent the third year, the chief said. This would amount to the city paying $200,388 over the three years with the feds kicking in $322,359.
The SAFER grant does provide the option to request a waiver of the match and Napolitano plans to pursue this route. “But, there’s no guarantee.”
“The council is fully aware of the requirement to maintain the current staffing level and incur no layoffs during the performance period of the grant,” the letter of support reads. “In addition, they are aware of the required match for the three year period. The vote was unanimous in support of the grant and ensuring that the requirements of the Safer Grant are fulfilled upon acceptance of the award.”