August 8, 2017

MEMO TO:           Mayor Barber and Board of Commissioners

FROM:                  Frank A. Rush, Jr., Town Manager

SUBJECT:           Resolution Accepting Fire SAFER Grant – 3 Additional Fire Personnel - (Summary & Suggested Motions)

The Board of Commissioners is scheduled to consider the formal acceptance of a Federal grant to fund 3 additional Fire personnel at the August 8 meeting.  The attached resolution formally authorizes the acceptance of a Federal SAFER grant that would fund a significant portion of salary and benefit costs for the 3 additional personnel for a period of 3 years.  Fire Chief Bill Walker will brief the Board on this grant award and be available to answer any questions.

The Emerald Isle Fire Department currently operates with a total of 4 personnel per shift responding from 2 fire stations, with 2 personnel on duty at all times at each station.  Typically, all 4 personnel respond to calls on 2 Fire apparatus (1 from each station) and begin firefighting efforts with at least 4 personnel on scene.  This is an acceptable (but minimal) approach, and EIFD has operated with this approach for nearly 20 years.  Despite this minimal staffing approach, the Town is fortunate to enjoy an ISO fire rating of “4”, which is very good for a community and Fire Department of our size. 

National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards require a minimum of 4 personnel on scene to begin firefighting efforts, and the Town meets this standard with the response from both stations and/or a response from off-duty fire personnel (and volunteers) and/or a mutual aid response from nearby departments.  Ideally, however, each responding EIFD apparatus (from each station) would be staffed with 4 personnel, and many Fire departments operate with this approach.  As discussed with the Board earlier this year and during the annual budget process, the Town’s goal is to gradually increase staffing levels in the Fire Department in the coming years to eventually meet this standard, and this grant opportunity represents a cost-effective strategy toward this goal.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) administers the SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grant program to enable local Fire departments to increase or maintain the number of trained, "front line" firefighters available in their communities and comply with NFPA standards.  The SAFER grant program provides initial funding for additional Fire personnel for 3 years - 75% of salary and benefit costs for the first 2 years and 35% for the 3rd year.  The local Fire department is responsible for all costs in the 4th year and beyond.

The Town was recently informed that the EIFD has been awarded a 2016 SAFER grant to fund 3 additional Fire personnel.  This grant award would provide a total of approximately $123,000 annually in years 1 and 2, and approximately $58,000 in year 3.  The required local match for years 1 and 2 is approximately $41,000 annually, and approximately $108,000 for year 3.  (The FY 17-18 adopted budget includes the required local match for year 1.)  The Town would be responsible for the annual cost of approximately $164,000 after the SAFER grant expires in 2020.

The additional 3 Fire personnel funded by the SAFER grant would increase staffing from 2 personnel to 3 personnel on each shift at Fire Station 1, and represents the first step in the Town’s efforts to gradually increase staffing levels in the Fire Department in the coming years.  The additional personnel will promote firefighter safety, enable a more effective response to fire scenes, and move the EIFD closer to recommended NFPA staffing standards.  Fire Station 2 would continue to operate with 2 personnel on each shift for the foreseeable future. 

The Town has until August 26 to accept or decline the SAFER grant award.  If the Board approves the attached resolution, the Fire Department will begin both internal and external recruiting efforts later this month, with a goal to have the new personnel on board by October 1.  SAFER grant funding would then expire on or around October 1, 2020, and the Town would be responsible for 100% of the additional personnel costs from that date forward.  The Town has committed to retain these additional personnel for at least one year beyond the expiration of the SAFER grant, however, the Town’s expectation is that the additional personnel will be retained indefinitely in the future (barring some unforeseen significant budget challenge).  Depending on future needs and the Town’s budget situation in the coming years, the Town may also consider an additional SAFER grant application in the future for additional Fire personnel.

I recommend approval of the attached resolution, as it represents the most cost-effective strategy to gradually increase staffing levels in the EIFD, and is consistent with the Town’s priorities established in the FY 17-18 budget.  Chief Walker and I look forward to discussing the SAFER grant and EIFD staffing issues with the Board at the August 8 meeting.