Federal grant money is helping the Surprise Fire Medical Department snuff out a fire that erupted when it pulled an engine out of a busy fire station earlier this month.
The city was awarded a federally-funded Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) Grant this month, funding eight firefighters when Station 308 opens in northern Surprise in a couple of years.
But, more importantly, it will allow flexibility in the meantime for the department to redeploy an engine at Station 305 at Greenway Road and Parkview Place in the City Center until the new station opens.
That became an issue Oct. 1 when the Surprise Fire Fighters Union complained about public safety issues — including sending a mailer to city homes — when Fire Chief Tom Abbott decided to take the engine at 305 out of service in lieu of a Low Acuity Unit truck.
“At the fire chief’s discretion, [the new firefighters] will be available to staff Engine 305,” City Manager Mike Frazier said.
Mr. Frazier, Mr. Abbott and Mike Payne, the president of the union, issued a joint statement about the grant plans to show unity on the issue.
“We are excited by the collaborative efforts of the city manager, fire chief and fire association to provide guidance on a future plan to staff Engine 305,” Mr. Payne said about the unified message. “The award of a federal SAFER grant of eight firefighters helps us achieve a common goal of providing the best possible public safety.”
Mr. Frazier said the unified message was important because of public concern.
“Public safety is the No. 1 concern for all of us, and clear and accurate communication to the public about how we are working to maintain a safe Surprise is very important,” Mr. Frazier said.
The plan with the SAFER grant calls for eight recruits — as well as five new firefighters the city has already absorbed in the budget from a previous grant — to join the next Phoenix Fire Department Academy, starting Monday, Feb. 24.
Those recruits could graduate by late May and be ready to join the department by June.
“We anticipate Engine 305 being placed in service by late June 2020 through a two-pronged approach,” Mr. Payne said. “Part 1 is to utilize the eight SAFER grant firefighters until Fire Station 308 opens.”
The second part will be the upcoming budget process, which could permanently abosrb the new employees like the five budgetted ones for this year who will be attending the upcoming training in Phoenix.
“We applied for this same grant in 2015, asking for and receiving funding for five firefighters for the period of January 2017 through December 2018,” Mr. Frazier said. “The city now includes those staffing costs as part of the General Fund budget.”
Mr. Frazier said 12 of recruits will be dedicated to Fire Station 308 when it opens in late 2021 or early 2022.
“At this point, it’s going to offer us a lot of flexibility in staffing,” Mr. Abbott told the City Council on Oct. 15 when informing it of the grant. “We can foresee putting Engine 305 back in service for a period of time. We can utilize it to help reduce some overtime costs until that fire station opens.”
Finance Director Andrea Davis said it also makes more sense to stagger in the employees rather than hiring a whole crew for one station once it opens.
“We didn’t want to hire 15 people in one year,” Ms. Davis told the Council. “So, it kind of helps stagger into the hiring process and smooth it in — making sure we have properly trained firefighters starting and ready to go and ease into the budget little by little.”
Mayor Skip Hall said the grant money signals the city’s commitment to public safety.
“It really underscores you and your team’s planning efforts along with the city manager to keep this city safe and keep ahead of it,” Mr. Hall told the fire chief. “Our residents have a lot of respect for the fire and police in this city — and there’s an appetite to make sure that it stays safe for the residents.”
Mr. Abbott said coming up with the plan to retain the new firefighters permanently will be the focus of the upcoming budget process for fiscal year 2021.
“I will present several different options to consider as to how we would go ahead and provide additional staffing if we were to put [Engine] 305 in service as well as staff [Station] 308. At some point in time we have to staff 308 [in the budget].”
“I’m sure glad we got that grant. It gives us a lot of flexibility.”
Public Safety has been, and will remain, the number one priority for the City Manager, Fire-Medical Chief and Fire Association.
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