Frederick County Receiving $6.3-million From The Feds To Hire Fire Fighters

The funds come from the Department of Homeland Security.

Frederick, Md. (KM)  Federal funding is coming to Frederick County to hire some additional full time fire fighters. Senators Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin, and Representatives John Delaney and Chris Van Hollen, announced on Wednesday that the county is getting $6.3-million to pay for  41 additional fire fighters.

“We’re obviously pretty pleased that our application that goes through a very competitive scoring process that determines genuine need obviously scored well to the point of getting the full award that our application requested,” said Tom Owens, Frederick County Fire Chief.

He said the money will  recruit, hire and train additional fire fighters to staff local fire halls to help volunteers answer emergency calls.

Chief Owens says the federal funds will help the county transition from station staffing to tactical unit staffing which makes sure the number of people who can respond to calls is adequate. “Right now, in many of the fire stations around the county, we put a small number of career staff in the station to support the volunteer corporation. But in many cases it’s only enough people to staff a single unit,” he says.

As an example, Chief Owens says if  there’s a call late at night for a vehicle fire, there may only be three career fire fighters in the station, and they’ll staff the engine which has been dispatched to the scene, leaving the ambulance out of service. He says with tactical unit staffing, there would be five career personnel: three assigned to engine and three for the ambulance. “We won’t trading off between units the staffing to get one response in favor of another, and sacrificing the remaining service,” he says.

Chief Owens says the county has been working toward tactical unit staffing for a number of years. “It accelerates  the plan so that we can begin to transition more stations over to tactical unit staffing sooner than what we might be able to than having to go through a responsible budget request year after year to achieve this,” he says.

Some of fire stations that have asked for additional help are Braddock Heights, Carroll Manor and Urbana, according to Owens. He says some changes will be made to the downtown Frederick fire companies, along with the Brunswick Volunteer Fire Company. In addition, says Owens, the Lewistown Fire Hall will expand its ambulance staffing to offer 24-hour service.

Owens says this will assure that Frederick County will continue to provide fire and rescue service 24.7.

But it will not mean the end of the volunteer service, which has a very strong tradition in Frederick County, according to Chief Owens. “Folks may look at this and say that all of the extra staffing with career folks could push the volunteers out. It really still builds the strength of the supplemental staffing that we provide,” he says.

In many instances,  some pieces of apparatus will  be staffed by both volunteers  and career staff.  “The more desired staffing for any fire apparatus to respond is four, not three. So this upgrade that we’re providing with the federal money gets us to a  three-person minimum staffing. But we’re still looking for that volunteer to fill that fourth seat that we need to really to make a fully functional crew,” he says.

Owens says the county has 180 days, under the grant’s regulations, to hire these additional fire fighters. But he says plans to add the personnel began long before the grant was awarded. “We actually started our hiring process back in April with our written examination and then we go through our physical abilities test,” he says. “So we’ve been actually building a candidate pool in anticipation of a successful SAFER Grant award,” says Owens.

SAFER stands for Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, a grant program of the US Department of Homeland Security.

“The County Executive has also funded 12 new fire fighter positions through the county budget this year,” says Owens. “So we’re really talking about 65 total when you then look at we’re going to fill some vacancies that we already have of existing positions that have vacated through normal attrition,” says Chief Owens.

He says it could take three full recruit academies to train these individuals to be ready to staff local fire halls. “The good news is we got the grant,” says Owens. “Now we’re about the get very busy to bring these folks on board.”