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Medina will pursue federal grant to add firefighters

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 12 January 2015 at 12:00 am

Photo by Tom Rivers – Jonathan Higgins, a captain with Medina Fire Department, speaks to the Village Board tonight, asking the group to pursue a federal for more firefighters.

MEDINA – The Village Board will pursue a federal grant to add staff for the Fire Department. Whether the village will seek two or four full-time firefighters remains to be decided.

Jonathan Higgins, a captain with the Medina FD, presented the grant program to the board during today’s board meeting. The federal Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response grants would cover firefighters’ salary, benefits and retirement contributions for three years, as long as Medina maintains its existing staffing levels of 13 full-time firefighters.

The department also has two temporary paid positions. Those spots could be made full-time without the temporary status as part of the grant, Higgins said. He would the department to add four staff, making the two temporary part of the regular paid crew and adding two more.

Medina Mayor Andrew Meier wants to pursue the grant, but he isn’t convinced the village should go after four more paid positions. He worries if the community could afford the salaries after the grant expires in three years.

Medina isn’t obligated to continue the positions after three years.

The village tried for the SAFER grant last year and sought two positions. It wasn’t approved for the grant. Higgins believes the Fire Department has a compelling case for the grant.

The department responded to nearly 3,000 calls last year. The Fire Department went from six to 13 full-time staff in 2006 when it took over the ambulance service in western Orleans from Rural Metro.

The Fire Department estimated then that there would be approximately 1,500 annual calls for service. Last year it responded to 2,986 calls. The call volume has been growing about 200 calls a year since the village become primary ambulance providers for western Orleans.

“If we keep increasing our calls by 200 we’ll be drowning,” Higgins told the Village Board.

He said the department’s application would have a better chance for approval by seeking four firefighters, rather than two.

The Village Board agreed to pay $1,800 to Grantmasters Inc. in Lewiston to write the grant, which is due to the Federal Emergency Management Agency by March 6.

The board, however, wants more time to decide whether to seek two or four firefighter positions. Meier said the department may not be able to offset 17 full-time positions through ambulance-generated revenue.

“I see four firefighters as being a very tough pill for the community to swallow,” Meier said.

Higgins said the increasing call volume has generated larger than expected revenues for the fire department. The village in October also approved higher mileage reimbursement rates for the ambulance (from $20 to $30) and a $50 out-of-district surcharge for calls outside western Orleans.

Over a full year, Higgins said those charges should add another $250,000 in revenue for the department.

The Village Board voted to start the grant application process, while Meier and the fire department look at revenues and costs for the department, trying to project the future.

If the village is approved for the grant, the new firefighters likely wouldn’t be hired until early 2016 with the grant covering their salaries until early 2019.