CFD earns $491,000 federal grant

Funding would support salaries and benefits for three new firefighters

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Camas Fire Chief Nick Swinhart announced yesterday that the fire department has earned a nearly $491,000 grant that will pay the salaries and benefits of three new firefighter/IV technicians for two years.

The $490,818 Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grant, administered through the Department of Homeland Security, is aimed at providing funding directly to fire departments to help increase the number of trained, front line firefighters.

“These [SAFER Grants] are very difficult to get and we are proud of the team for getting us to this point,” said Swinhart, crediting Capt. Kevin Bergstrom, Firefighter/Paramedic Darren Deibler and Administrative Assistant Alicia Ramsey for crafting the successful grant application.

This marks the first time the CFD has applied for the federal funding. Highest consideration is given to departments that have lost employees due to layoffs and attrition.

Swinhart said the CFD currently has 4.5 fewer full-time employees than two years ago, which includes three positions not funded due to budget constraints.

In addition, Swinhart said overtime costs have increased due to multiple injuries and sickness and call volume that has jumped 10 percent in the past two years.

“Up 10 percent in two years tells me how fast our community is growing,” he said.

Swinhart said the city could initially incur some expenses related to the new hires in the form of training, overtime and equipment. But, he added, the three additional people could eventually help bring overtime costs down.

During the two-year grant period, layoffs and loss of employees due to attrition are not allowed. But unlike past years’ SAFER Grants, there is no requirement to maintain the additional personnel beyond the two-year time line.

The Camas City Council must accept the grant through a resolution, which will be on the agenda during the regular meeting on Monday, June 18.

Councilman Don Chaney said he has some concerns about what will happen after the grant funding runs out.

“We are going to have to face how we are going to pay for the additional staff in two years,” he said.

Later, Chaney added that he might have a hard time supporting acceptance of the grant without some additional information.

“I would really like to see something tangible — a creative approach as to how we are going to pick up that obligation in year three and beyond,” he said. “If I don’t have some sense of that I may not be able to support it, and I want to.”

Swinhart said conversations about future funding sources and options are currently underway.

If the City Council accepts the funding later this month, Swinhart said the hiring process will begin “as soon as possible.”

Camas joins 25 other fire departments from around the nation that also received SAFER Grants during the 2011 award cycle. From Washington, recipients also included the Marysville Fire District ($546,000) and Ridgefield based Clark County Fire and Rescue ($464,361).