WARREN - Warren firefighters and administrators are waiting to learn whether the city will receive a new Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (S.A.F.E.R.) grant or if they must plan for a reduction in the number of firefighters.
Money from the $4.9 million 2010 S.A.F.E.R. grant, which allowed the city to hire 15 firefighters in 2011, is set to run out Nov. 26. The grant also allowed the department to recall 10 firefighters who had been laid off.
The city applied for a new grant in August.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Warren firefighter John Fortune was hired in February using money from the federal Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant.
"We were hoping to learn whether we would get the grant last week," Safety Service Director Enzo Cantalamessa said.
The city has 70 firefighters and operates three stations. It has hired or replaced 31 firefighters, since receiving its first S.A.F.E.R. grant in November 2010. It replaced six firefighters that were hired under the grant because they got jobs with other departments.
"One of the conditions of the current grant is we must maintain staffing level at minimum levels," Cantalamessa said. "We do not know if the next grant will have the same language in it."
Fire Chief Ken Nussle said having the S.A.F.E.R. firefighters has let the department maintain three stations and have five trucks available 24 hours a day.
"We have been able to provide a quicker response," Nussle said. "We've had more firefighters on the fire grounds."
Nussle said the city is already developing contingency plans if it does not receive another grant.
The goal of both the fire department and the administration is to find ways to operate the three stations with or without the grant.
"We plan to keep as many of the S.A.F.E.R. firefighters as we can," Cantalamessa said. "We are looking at a number of options, including finding ways to keep some of the firefighters or having to lay all of them off."
The fire department has an annual budget of $7.1 million.
"The 2012 fire department was tight," Cantalamessa said.
International Association of Firefighters Local 204 president John Jerina said the union has done enough through monetary and benefit reductions during contract negotiations that the city should be able to maintain the S.A.F.E.R. firefighters even without the grant.
"We have been working hard with the city, and the city has been working hard with us," Jerina said. "Everyone is hoping for the best."
Jerina, an 11-year veteran with the department, said the union has not yet spoken with the administration about what would happen if the grant application is denied.
John Fortune, hired in February under the S.A.F.E.R. grant, said working in Warren has allowed him to fight more fires and receive more training.
Fortune, 24, was a volunteer firefighter in his hometown of Geneva, Ohio, and worked for seven months as a full-time firefighter in South Carolina.
"Coming here was an opportunity to work in a larger fire department," Fortune said. "In volunteer departments, you might see an actual fire three to four times a year. You can work three to four fires a month in Warren."
Cantalamessa said the firefighters hired using S.A.F.E.R. grant funds know that their employment is determined by the city's ability to replace that money.