WEST WARWICK – The West Warwick Fire Department is taking measures to improve staffing and deployment capabilities through a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant so it can respond to emergencies more effectively.
Fire Chief Joe Baris is in the process of preparing an application for the 2013 FEMA SAFER hiring grant on behalf of the department.
“The West Warwick Fire Department protects thousands of residents, critical infrastructure, high-rise structures and elderly housing,” he said. “The residents are currently at risk due to the lack of manpower available for incidents at medium-to-large scale occupancies such as Clyde Towers, Royal Mills, Monsignor DeAngelis Manor and the industrial park.”
Baris said for as much as the department has been able to do, it has done it by increasing demands on the firefighters.
The fire chief explained how currently the department doesn’t adequately staff its apparatus according to national standards, which according to the chief, has resulted in increased injuries, delayed fire extinguishment and prolonged victim searches.
“It is our goal through the SAFER grant to change the dynamic of the department and work more safely and efficiently,” Baris said.
If the department receives the grant, eight additional firefighters can be hired full time with benefits for two years through the funds the grant will provide, and the department does not have to commit to retaining those hired after that two-year funding period; it will sign a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to that effect.
West Warwick Town Manager Fred Presley said the grant can be a very effective one if much of a department’s costs are going toward overtime.
“In the past, as part of the FEMA grant requirement, departments had to keep who was hired,” he said. “That stipulation doesn’t hold true anymore.”
Presley explained how the grant can be beneficial because there is a certain number of personnel on duty per shift. If, for whatever reason, someone calls in and can’t work their shift, someone else gets called in and works overtime.
“If the department received the grant, then there will be more on per shift per platoon, which will eliminate the overtime,” Presley explained. “It’s about making the departments safer and having the appropriate man power to respond.”
Councilman Angelo Padula Jr. shared his concerns regarding the grant.
“No offense to the chief but it seems like every time we get one of these grants, we end up paying more out of our pockets and we can’t afford what we have now,” Padula said. As long as it’s a zero cost to our taxpayers, I’m all for it.”
“I think we can possibly take advantage of this and we can save close to a million dollars,” Baris said.
According to Baris’s numbers, the first year’s salary for one firefighter would be $36,620 plus the cost of benefits, pension, clothing allowance, holiday pay and other line items, the total cost equals $89,351. The grant would be for $1.5 million.
“For fiscal years 2013 to 2014 and 2014 to 2015, eight additional firefighters would save 10,905 hours in overtime at a private’s average overtime rate of $35.06 per hour,” Baris explained. “This equals a savings of $382,330.
Once the grant is approved, the department would have 90 days to hire the personnel. The application deadline for the grant is August 30, 2013.
Applications will be reviewed in the middle of September with grant awards beginning in November and December.