Glynn County Fire Chief R.K. Jordan has a way to add 15 much-needed firefighters to the department at a bargain rate to taxpayers.
So what’s the deal? Roughly two thirds of the $2 million per year cost will be paid for by the federal government, leaving Glynn County to pay just $800,000.
Any potential drawbacks? The $1.3 million annual Federal Emergency Management Agency grant is good for only three years.
The federal money comes from a FEMA grant known as SAFER: Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response. The grant is designed to help fire departments across the country beef up their ranks to better adhere to national firefighting standards. Standards established by the National Fire Protection Agency advocate for at least four firefighters on the scene before going into a firefight.
The standard is one of several NFPA standards that affect homeowner insurance rates, Jordan said. FEMA will contribute roughly $1.3 million in each of the three years to pay for the 15 additional firefighters, according the agency’s announcement last month that the department had been awarded the grant. The county would contribute a balance of about $800,000 in each of those years.
Jordan believes it is an offer the county should not refuse.
“There is no doubt,” he said. “For a 33.3 percent buy-in, we’re enhancing the safety of the department and the citizens they serve by up-staffing the department approximately 10 percent. On an economic scale, it is difficult to refuse additional staffing at such a discounted rate. I believe it will beenfit our response times and our (fire) loss rate.”
Glynn County presently has two firefighters on each truck, which includes the driver. The grant would allow the fire department to add a third firefighter at each of the outlying mainland county stations and at one of the three stations on St. Simons Island. Additionally, the department could add an additional firefighter to its two ladder trucks, one on the mainland and one on the island.
“We’ve got a grant to hire 15 additional people,” Jordan said. “To add to our staffing like this will allow us to implement a phenomenal amount of improvements. It puts us in a position to enhance services for citizens, and in doing so, it enhances the safety of our firefighters.”
The fire department applied for the grant last year. FEMA announced last month that the grant had been awarded. The grant proposal will likely go to the county Finance Committee at its Oct. 10 meeting. If approved by the finance committee, it could go before the County Commission for consideration as early as the Oct. 26 meeting.
County Commissioner Mark Stambaugh’s biggest concern is what becomes of the additional firefighters when FEMA’s $1.3 million contribution runs out in three years. Otherwise, he thinks the SAFER grant has merit. The fact that the grant covers the additional firefighters for all three years without placing further demands on the department also is encouraging, he said.
“I’d be more inclined to accept that,” said Stambaugh, who also serves on the county Finance Committee. “The downside is, in three years do we have the money to pay them, do we keep them on board? I need to look a little closer before I make that decision.”
Jordan used the grant previously when he was assistant fire chief in Fort Myers, Fla. He believes county growth will have created the demand for the additional firefighters by that time.
Glynn County presently has 124 frontline firefighters, two short of a full staff, Jordan said. The current fiscal year’s fire department budget is $10.1 million.
Station 3 at 127 Grants Ferry Road in northwestern Glynn County and Station 6 at 3320 U.S. Highway 17 in the southwestern part of the county would most likely get an additional firefighter to cover each of the department’s three shifts, Jordan said. Another firefighter would be placed at one of St. Simons’ three stations. An additional firefighter could be added at either Station 8 on Public Safety Boulevard in the county’s central western region or at Station 1 at 4310 Community Road, he said. An additional firefighter would be added to both department ladder trucks, he said.
“It would be ideal to get one on each of the outlying stations because they’re so far away from having assistance,” Jordan said. “Those are the ones I’m looking at in particular. It will allow us to initiate operations quicker when we get on the scene.”