Niles adds to fire dept.

NILES — With the recent swearing-in of a firefighter, the Niles Fire Department is up to authorized staffing levels.

Dave Blados, 25, of Chardon, was sworn in last week and fire Chief David Danielson said the hiring of Blados brings the department up to a temporary authorized strength of 33, which includes a chief, three captains, six lieutenants and 23 firefighters. Blados was selected from among 16 applicants, Danielson said.

Blados was the final of six firefighters hired with funding from the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The first five firefighters hired through the grant funding, including the first female firefighter in department history, came on board in February.

The SAFER grant provided the fire department with $1 million, Danielson said, but it’s unclear how a city faced with financial difficulty will maintain an authorized strength when the grant funds are exhausted at the end of 2018. It will ultimately be up to the city administration to determine where future funding will come from, Danielson said, but the department is seeking a SAFER extension that if realized would allow the department to keep the staff levels at the present form through 2019.

For eight years prior to receiving the SAFER grant, the department had a staff of 27, Danielson said, and after three firefighters were laid off in 2016 because of the city’s unstable financial situation, that number dropped to 24. Those three firefighters were ultimately brought back on board after voters passed a half-percent income tax increase in March 2016 that bolstered the city’s general fund and helped pay for safety forces.

Prior to the hiring of the six firefighters, department overtime levels were around $120,000 in 2016, Danielson said, and for 2017 to date the overtime amount is around $20,000. Having a department with an authorized strength minimizes overtime, Danielson said, because there is now enough staff to generally always meet the union requirement to always have six firefighters working per shift and there are more hands available when people can’t work a shift.

“It’s always helpful to have an extra set of hands,” Danielson said.

Mayor Thomas Scarnecchia said he’s pleased both the fire and police departments are finally up to authorized strength.

“Things are running smooth,” he said.