Fairfield could add more firefighters, but state grants come with a cost

Fairfield officials are debating whether to accept a federal firefighting staffing grant because of the city’s own financial obligations that come with the funding.

Fairfield was awarded a nearly $1.26 million Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant so the fire department could hire six firefighters. The grant requires the city to conribute about $783,000.

The city will pay for the upfront personnel costs (such as wages, contractual overtime and benefits) and will be reimbursed over the next three years. The city is also required to maintain the staffing level after the grant period.

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"The idea behind the SAFER grant is that it should be adding to your operating staffing and therefore the amount of overtime should be decreased by the additional resources that are provided by the federal government," said Finance Director Scott Timmer.

However, the city will be on the hook to keep those six firefighters once the grant expires in three years.

Fire Chief Don Bennett said this the grant is “not a contractual agreement.”

“We want you, all of you, to be comfortable with this commitment,” Bennett told City Council earlier this month.

A decision on the grant needs to be made soon, he said. Council is expected to discuss the grant at a meeting next month.

Bennett said the grant is “an opportunity” because, over the past five years, the fire department has lost more than 100 part-time firefighters to full-time opportunities elsewhere. He said there are 10 area fire departments, not including the cities of Hamilton and Cincinnati, looking to hire upwards of 40 firefighters, and the Cincinnati Fire Department hired many of Fairfield’s part-time staff over the past several years.

“This is a true need that we need to shift the dependence on part-time people,” Bennett said.

The city employs 10 full-time and eight part-time firefighters per shift, or 54 full-time equivalents, to staff its three fire stations. The grant would increase the staffing to 12 full-time and eight part-time firefighters per shift, or 60 full-time equivalents. The city employs 30 full-time firefighters (not including the two deputy chiefs and one chief) and 48 part-time firefighters.

The personnel cost for 2019 is projected to be $6.14 million, the same as 2018, but overtime costs are trending downward, Timmer said.

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