WARREN - Firefighters hired under the 2010 Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response program can breathe a sigh of relief as the city has been approved to use $1.7 million left in the original grant.
The city has until May 26, 2014, to use the remaining money from the original $10.4 million SAFER grant.
Fourteen firefighters were hired with the grant. The SAFER program allows the city to withdraw money to pay the firefighters.
The grant through the Federal Emergency Management Administration has allowed the city to keep three fire stations open over the last several years. Without it, the department would have 55 firefighters.
Dan Edwards, 26, who has been with the department for two years, said the grant allowed him to get his first full-time firefighter job.
"I previously worked as a paramedic at a private ambulance company and worked part-time with smaller fire departments," Edwards said. "Working in Warren has provided me substantial experience in a city department."
If the federal government had not approved allowing Warren to use the remaining grant funds, the SAFER firefighters would have been laid off effective Sunday.
A husband and father of two children, Edwards did not wait for the layoffs to find a job. He already made arrangements to return to the paramedic position he had before being hired by Warren.
"This is a relief," Edwards said.
Fire Chief Ken Nussle said there is enough money remaining in the grant to last the department for the one-year extension.
"This is a great day for Warren, our firefighters and, most importantly, for our citizens," Nussle said. "Keeping these firefighters on duty allows our response time to remain as quick as it has been."
Having more firefighters makes it safer for others because there are more on a truck when they are called out, reducing the chance of someone getting hurt because they have too many things to do at one time, Nussle said.
Although the city has been spared having to lay off the firefighters, Nussle said they may be losing a SAFER grant firefighter next month because he has been offered a higher-paying job in another community.
In the meantime, Nussle said the firefighters union, the department and the city intends to work together in apply for the 2014 SAFER grants when the application period opens. The city was not awarded the 2012 SAFER grant.
"We've been told what we did wrong in the application and are working to address those issues," Nussle said.
More than 1,500 fire departments applied for the grant.
FEMA announced earlier this week that it accepted a request from the city that allowed it to have staffing levels of 69 firefighters, instead of an authorized strength 75 that was in the original request.
"We requested a lowering of the number because of the natural attrition that occurs as firefighters leave for better-paying jobs and the difficult economy," Safety-Service Director Enzo Cantalamessa said.