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September 12, 2013

Roseville Fire Department offered $1 million grant

By Kevin Bunch
C & G Staff Writer

The Roseville Fire Department has received a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to hire up to six new firefighters, or retain existing ones.

Fire Chief Mike Holland said now the City Council needs to accept the $1,031,154 grant and determine if it will be used for new hires, to prevent layoffs, or possibly both. Given that to seek out the grant in the first place required council approval, he anticipates that the money will be accepted.

“No matter what decision they make, as long as they accept the money, it will be a great situation for the city of Roseville,” Holland said. “We’ll either be taking funds that won’t be coming out of the general fund, or we will be getting new firefighters.”

City Controller Robert Cady said regardless of if they are new hires or already on staff, the grant amount would fund the firefighters’ salary and insurances for two years. The council can take its action during a regular meeting or during a study session, he added.

He said the city still is awaiting the formal details of the grant from FEMA so it can decide specifically how the money will be used.

“We want to ask at first if we can have three new hires and three firefighters retained, but we don’t know if we can do that yet,” Cady said.

Holland explained that due to the economy, the Fire Department’s ranks have been thinned over the past few contract periods, going from a full force of 44 people to the current full-time staff of 38.

Most recently, Holland said the department lost its fire inspector and chief of training last year when those officers were promoted. Rather than promote people from the operational staff like usual, he said the existing administrative staff took on the extra workloads so more firefighters would be available for emergencies.

The grant comes through FEMA’s Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or SAFER, program, Holland said, adding that the city had received a similar SAFER grant in 2010 to employ four firefighters.

He said the grant application was sent out last year around August. Holland and firefighter Scott Bala arrived at the six-firefighter figure by using the National Fire Protection Association’s 17-10 standard, which determines how many firefighters should initially be available to respond to a house fire a certain percentage of time.

The Fire Department sought and received letters of support for the grant from Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, and Rep. Sander Levin.

“It is vital that we maintain the fire protection our citizens need,” Carl Levin said in a statement. “This grant will help Roseville Fire Department hire more first responders to protect their community when an emergency strikes.”

Holland said the city was notified that it received the grant Sept. 5, and that it now has 90 days to do any new hiring to receive those funds.

With several certifications and licenses required of applicants before they are considered — such as the Michigan EMT and paramedic licenses, and passing a physical agility test — Holland said the department is already performing background checks for some potential new hires.

“We’ll have the people hired within 90 days,” he said. “That should not be an issue.”

From there they would go through the department’s own training program for roughly two months before being made full-fledged firefighters, Holland said.

Cady said the City Council would need to carefully consider how to use the grant based on the city’s own budgetary constraints and the one-off nature of the SAFER money.

“The good news is you get more firemen on the street, but the bad news is, with the situation the city has been in with cutting the budget, you don’t want to hire new people and then lay them off in two years because you can’t afford to keep them,” he said. “So we will probably look at the rolls and see who is retiring in the next few years, because you don’t want to make those decisions if you don’t have to.”

Roseville Mayor John Chirkun said in April that without the grant, the city likely would be forced to lay off two firefighters.

For him, the news that the city received the SAFER grant was welcome, even if the city still needs details of what the money can be used on.

“They just told us that they awarded it, but I’m ecstatic that we got it,” Chirkun said. “We will put it to good use.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Kevin Bunch at kbunch@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1030.