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The Middletown Division of Fire has received a $1.8 million federal SAFER grant (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) that will allow it to hire 12 additional firefighter EMTs.
“The only thing we had a problem with when we had a reduction in staff was getting enough firefighters on the scene of a working structure fire,” said Fire Chief Paul Lolli. “This is really going to help where this is concerned.”
Lolli said the grant comes from the Department of Homeland Security and is distributed through the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help cities to hire firefighters.
“We applied for 12 firefighter/EMT’s (emergency medical technicians) that will fund these positions for two years, and we have a plan in place to be able to sustain these positions one of two ways,” Lolli said.
Even if the city does not receive another version of the grant in two years, it already has negotiated with the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 336 to lower pay classifications for those with certifications of firefighter/EMT, as opposed to firefighter/paramedic.
“We had to come up with a plan to make things safe for our firefighters and the citizens of Middletown, and they (union leaders) really stepped up to the plate, and there was a lot of cooperation across the board to get this accomplished,” Lolli said.
“We have an adequate number of paramedics — we need more firefighters on duty,” Lolli said.
Within the next five years, 28 firefighters now working for the city will be able to retire, not that they all will, Lolli said. As they are replaced by lower-paid firefighter/EMTs, that will help the city sustain the increased staffing.
“We had such great collaboration between the city, council and our administration where we were all able to come together to formulate a plan that worked for both sides” said Tim Kinsworthy, Middletown Firefighters Association president. “Upon doing that we were able to apply for the Safer Grant that will not only make our men safer it will make our citizens safer.”
The city now has 65 on its fire service, 60 of those out on the streets, with the other five in the administrative staff. The additional firefighters will leave the city with 72 firefighters on the streets.
“It’s significant,” Lolli said. “It’s going to get our minimum manning from 13 on duty (at a time) to at least 16,” he said. “We won’t go below 16 or 17 on duty. We’re going to have an additional engine company in service every day because of receiving this grant.”
“That will help us get people to a fire and EMS runs quicker, and rely on mutual aid less,” the chief said.
When Lolli started in the division in 1989, the city had about 92, including the administrative staff. Two years ago, that total dipped to 65, “so we’re getting those numbers back up,” he said.
Staff Writer Ed Richter contributed to this report.