Federal grant preserves fire department

5:11 pm January 2nd, 2013

A federal grant of $546,580 will cover personnel costs the next two years-plus of the Eatonville Fire Department, sparing the agency from possible layoffs.
The federal funds also have improved the town’s overall financial situation, officials said.
The SAFER grant, which the fire agency can start drawing from in January, pays for wages and benefits of four firefighter/paramedics in 2013, 2014 and the first quarter of 2015.
“It gets the Fire Department past the hump,” said fire chief Bob Hudspeth.
Without the federal help, ALS (advanced life support) would have been eliminated as a service of the department, and the firefighters would have faced layoffs.
The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grants program was created to provide funding directly to fire departments to help them increase the number of trained, frontline firefighters in their communities, as well as to preserve public safety staffing in the face of local-government budget cuts. The goal of SAFER is to enhance the local fire departments’ abilities to comply with staffing, response and operational standards, according to FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency). FEMA and Homeland Security administer the grants.
Eatonville applied for the grant and was eligible because “there was potential for layoffs,” Hudspeth said.
Money the town would have needed to divert from its general fund to cover personnel costs of the Fire Department can now be spent on other needs, including repaying an internal loan the town made to itself using money donated for the Bud Blancher Trail project, Mayor Ray Harper said.
A payback of $612,313 is planned as part of an $8.2 million budget for the town for 2013. The state auditor has urged the town to restore the trail funding.
The SAFER funding is the latest financial boost for fire protection in Eatonville. The town was reimbursed about $20,000 for personnel and equipment costs from sending an aid car and two firefighter/paramedics to eastern Washington to help with the battle against massive wildfires last summer. And part of a recent public-safety grant from Nisqually Tribe is for installing new bay doors on the fire station.
“How blessed can one town be?” Hudspeth mused.
In the latest round of SAFER grants, other fire departments in Washington selected to receive funding include Tumwater Fire Department, West Thurston Regional Fire Authority in Olympia, and Lynden Fire Department in Whatcom County.
One of the largest single grants nationally is to Detroit, Mich., for more than $5 million.

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