WARREN - The jobs of 15 firefighters are in danger because the federal government rejected the city's latest effort to fund the positions with Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grants.
"We learned that we would not receive the grant last week," Mayor Doug Franklin told City Council's Finance Committee on Tuesday. "We are working to find ways to keep as many of our firefighters as possible. Franklin said that discussions with the city's firefighters have been ongoing since the city was told it would not be receiving money in this round.
"It was disheartening news," Franklin said. "We knew when we applied for the grant that it was 50 percent chance that we would not receive it. This is the reason why you try not to fund a department with grant money."
Safety Service Director Enzo Cantalamessa called the rejection a bit of a surprise because the federal government in December gave the city an extension to spend the money allocated to it under the $4.9 million 2010 S.A.F.E.R. grant. The extension ends on May 26.
When the S.A.F.E.R. grant was originally obtained, it was used to bring back 10 firefighters who were previously laid off and to hire 15 new firefighters.
Franklin emphasized the city is committed to maintaining the current level of safety staffing.
"This is just going to make the effort more challenging," Franklin said. "We were fortunate, in a way, that we had the foresight not to include the S.A.F.E.R. grant money in our 2013 budget. We are going to scan the budget to see if there are funds to keep as many of these firefighters as possible."
Franklin said the administration and the fire department are in agreement that it requires at least three firefighters on duty to maintain the satellite fire stations. The city has three fire stations open.
Assistant Fire Chief Orneil Heller said this will be a matter of budgeting and working together with the administration to see what needs to be done.
Firefighter John Jerina, the president of International Association of Firefighters Local 204, said their first priority the safety of city residents and the members of the firefighter union.
Councilman John Brown, D-3rd Ward, said he was taken by surprise by the administration's announcement.
"Although we were passed over this time, I'm hoping that, like the last time, we will be included in the later rounds," Brown said. "I applaud the firefighters and their union for their due diligence in getting the grant, but we need a grant writer to go after these types of grants."
Brown said these grants are important to communities across the country, not just Warren.
"Thank goodness for the federal funds," Brown said. "There are many communities that are not generating enough funds to maintain their departments, until we have an economic resurgence."
Councilman Eddie Colbert, D-7th Ward, said the main objective must be stabilizing the city's safety forces.
"We can't keep going back and forth from 75 firefighters to 54 firefighters," Colbert said. "It is not fair to the firefighters and it is not fair to the city."
Colbert is disappointed that a paramedics program that was discussed when the S.A.F.E.R grant was applied for was never implemented. He suggests the creation of the program within the city would have help in generating the funds to maintain some of the firefighters.
"The number may not be 75, but it should not be 54," he said.
Councilman Helen Rucker, D-at large, emphasized that the city will have to be even more cautious in its spending, if it is planning on keeping all of the firefighter hired through the S.A.F.E.R. grant.
"The money is going to come from the general fund," she said.
Councilman Vince Flask, D-5th ward, expressed disappointment.
"The city will work diligently with the union to try to save as many jobs as possible," Flask said.