Mass. Fire Dept. Earns $166K Federal Grant
The Herald News, Fall River, Mass.
Sept. 12—For the second time in just over a week, federal officials have awarded a six-figure firefighting grant to the Somerset department.
The $166,667 Assistance to Firefighters Grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will fund 25 sets of self-contained breathing apparatus, Fire Chief Scott Jepson said.
On a department of 31 uniformed firefighters he hopes will soon expand by four from a recent SAFER grant, Jepson said the sets of equipment are based upon "seated riding positions" on department apparatus.
The funds will replace air tanks, frames and air pieces to ensure safe breathing from smoke and contaminants, he said.
The current equipment, while functioning and safe, was replaced prior to 2002. National firefighter equipment has been improved three times since then, Jepson said.
He said many technological advances and safety features are built into the new breathing apparatus sets.
The town has to match this grant with only a 5 percent contribution—$8,333. Those funds are available in a department fund set aside to match federal equipment grants, Jepson said.
The grant, which Jepson accepted on Tuesday, also means the Somerset Fire Department's five-year capital funding to replace five of these sets a year won't need to be tapped into.
"This is a huge plus for us and for the town to have better and more sophisticated equipment and save the town about $175,000." He said they're making a larger order with Brockton and several other communities that received these grants, bolstering their purchasing power.
He expected it would be a few months to receive the new breathing equipment.
Somerset's three-year Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant of $731,032 that was announced at the end of August will require significant town contributions.
Jepson said he planned to present the details to selectmen Wednesday night, Sept. 12, on the grant helping fund four firefighters, for which the Federal Emergency Management Agency would fund 75 percent the first two years and 35 percent of salaries and benefits the third year.
Selectmen need to vote on paying the town's share and accept the federal grants within 30 days.
"I'm cautiously optimistic. I think it makes sense," Jepson said of the SAFER grant and the town appropriating the matching fund to increase the department to 35 firefighters.
Jepson said salaries and benefits for each firefighter cost about $100,000.
That means the first two years would cost about $25,000 each firefighter, or $100,000 a year for all four. In year three, with the town paying 65 percent, the cost would be about $255,000.
Once it accepts the grant, the town needs to retain the four firefighters for the three-year period and not lay off any existing firefighters, according to SAFER stipulations. No restrictions exist after the grant period.
Jepson said he will present financial benefits of obtaining the added personnel that are two-fold: He expects the department to save about $50,000 a year in overtime pay and to generate an additional $60,000 annually with larger third-party revenues from its two ambulances being more fully staffed.
"The total net cost to the town would be $170,000 for three years," Jepson said. The town has set Dec. 3 for a special Town Meeting to vote on the matching funds.
This is Somerset's first SAFER grant.
Last month Fall River, which has received several SAFER grants during the past decade, received another to add five firefighters, as well as an Assistance to Firefighters Grant to enable the department to conduct hazardous materials training and certification.