St. Clair Shores council to accept SAFER grant, if awarded

By: Alyssa Ochss | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published May 17, 2024

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ST. CLAIR SHORES — In a 4-2 vote at its April 15 meeting, the St. Clair Shores City Council approved to accept, if awarded, a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant.

Councilman John Caron and Councilwoman and Mayor Pro Tem Candice Rusie voted no. Mayor Kip Walby was excused and Rusie conducted the meeting.

The grant, according to items attached to the agenda, would help cover the cost of three added employees for the St. Clair Shores Fire Department in the amount of $1,478,932.86.

According to the attachment, the Fire Department previously presented its case to the City Council to increase its overall staffing by three firefighter/paramedics, thus raising each unit’s full complement to 16.

“Currently, the third off position is filled through overtime and the Fire Department has requested to change this to a full-time employee,” the item stated.

The agenda item also stated that the grant would allow the department to fill the positions right now instead of waiting to allocate money from the general fund.

City Manager Dustin Lent said by this approval, they would accept the award should the application process be successful. He also said this is a zero-match grant for the city and it is fully funded through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, with no requirement of retaining the staff beyond the three-year period of the grant.

The deadline to submit this grant was April 12 and the department submitted the paperwork on April 9.

The items attached to the agenda stated that the grant could be awarded in July, but Rusie clarified that the grant could be awarded in August.

Caron took issue with the fact that the application was not discussed at the previous two meetings and only at a work study session on March 11. He stated that the discussion at that meeting included increasing staffing to make sure ambulances were fully staffed, not to make sure an additional person was on the fire rig.

“And we were also not given any information regarding the SAFER grant at that meeting. We were subsequently emailed a document the following day that had all the requirements,” Caron said.

They also received an email from the firefighters union, Caron said, that stated the goal of the SAFER grant is to comply with federal regulations. In order to do that they need to have five firefighters staffed per engine and they currently only have two.

“It actually even states in ‘the chances of being awarded a grant for three firefighters is highly unlikely as SAFER heavily weighs the department’s ability to meet NFPA 1710 prior to the award and after the award is given,’” Caron said. “So even the firefighters union itself was not aligned with administration bringing this forward.”

Caron wanted the grant application to come before the City Council for consideration and editing prior to being submitted on April 9. There were many questions he had while going through the application including what the Fire Department’s financial needs are, whether everything was compiled with and how the narrative was written within the application. He read those questions out loud at the council meeting.

“This is the administration trying to cover themselves,” Caron said. “This is (because) they didn’t want to have a discussion again. They didn’t provide any of the information. They had two opportunities to bring this back for an actual approval where this could have been correctly gone through and debated and not covered afterward.”

Lent said they did talk about a lot of what Caron mentioned during the work study session.

“A lot of that is the EMS coverage,” Lent said. “But we also mentioned, and as you stated here in your letter as well from the firefighters, in order to be the most successful in applying for the SAFER grant you really do have to really structure that grant writing to be for the fire engine. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not going to significantly help our EMS issues.”

He also added that while writing a grant they try to emphasize as many points as they can get, and many other grants do not come before council before they are submitted.

Lent said they had the council’s initiative at the work study session, but Caron does not recall coming to a consensus at the meeting. No votes are cast or counted at work study sessions.

“I will say at that meeting, the indication and direction that was received was, in my opinion, I could have been wrong, from my opinion, was the majority of individuals up here, was (to) proceed with the grant,” Lent said.

Lent also clarified the union’s letter, stating it wanted to add six individuals instead of three. He said they mentioned it briefly during the work study session and the council didn’t want to be on the hook for six individuals.

Having six more firefighter/paramedics would help with both fire rescue and EMS. Lent said he didn’t want to let go of three people when the grant expires, stating that though he didn’t want to speak for the rest of the group, no one wants to do that.

“Once you go to the service of three additional firefighters, losing three additional firefighters is a change of service to the community,” Lent said. “Is there any direct impact, no, but that’s why it was brought in front of council during that work study session and (we) said we are looking for direction.”

If the Fire Department chooses not to go after the SAFER grant after the end of those three years, they could still lay off the three firefighters hired on with the grant. Lent did recognize the possibility of retirements during that time.

Councilman Dave Rubello wanted to have Fire Department representation present and suggested they should table the item.

Councilman Ronald Frederick said he’s been asking for this grant for years and thought they did have a consensus. He reiterated the amount being awarded by the grant should they get approved.

“To me this is a no brainer,” Frederick said. “Why wouldn’t we do this, right?”

He did acknowledge that attrition is still a factor.

“We’re going to be at a point where we’re going to probably have to look at higher staffing numbers anyway,” Frederick said. “So, to me this was a great way to get us to that point.”

He pointed out that the residents award the council and the city through millages when it comes to police and fire funding.

“Whether it’s us up here or residents at home, I think it’s pretty clear that we should be doing this,” Frederick said.

He also acknowledged Caron’s frustration with the grant process but said it sounds like it was all done legally. He made a motion to approve the item before Rubello motioned to table it.

Councilman Chris Vitale did agree with Caron’s point about there being two previous meetings to look at this, but seconded Frederick’s motion to approve.