SALISBURY, Md. – The next few months will be a waiting game for the Salisbury Fire Department.
The department was able to hire 12 new positions back in October 2012 after receiving the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant. The $1.4 million dollar grant is funded through the government and distributed through FEMA's Department of Homeland Security.
However, the grant is set to expire October 18th, and the fire department is in the dark about whether or not the application period will even begin before that date, or if they will receive the grant at all.
"If it's in June, great, there will be a 30 day window and we'll make application, and then we'll keep our fingers crossed that we are going to be a recipient of a new grant," says Chief Rick Hoppes of the Salisbury Fire Department. "If that happens and as long as that happens before October 18th then we're in great shape, however if it takes longer for them to give us the grant or we don't get the grant at all we'll have to cross that bridge."
If the grant does not go through, or if there is a funding gap between the time their grant expires and the new application period, the department's only hope would be funding in the city budget.
For the year 2015, Mayor Jim Ireton proposed a $65 million budget for the city of Salisbury on Tuesday, which includes more than $480,000 going to the fire department. Part of the money would go towards a brand new firehouse on Brown Street to replace station 2, which fire officials say is in desperate need. However, he only put aside funding to unfreeze two positions with the department.
"One of the reasons why we're unfreezing two firefighter positions is to have this third ambulance on call ready to throughout the city," says Mayor Jim Ireton. "What we hope to happen is that the safer grant will be renewed this year so that we can keep those additional firefighters."
Mayor Ireton says Chief Hoppes has done a solid job of managing the resources he has been given over the past few years.
"I think we've been fair to everybody," says Mayor Ireton. "If it happens it happens, if it doesn't we have to find a way to move on with providing that service for our citizens."
Chief Hoppes says he knows it will have a negative impact at some level if the department is not able to retain at least some of the 12 members in order to maintain their current operational staff.
"The loss of the entire 12 people is going to be huge and all of the positives we have gained will be negated, and will be lost," says Chief Hoppes. "That is a concern for me as it relates to providing fire and EMS and rescue protection to the citizens."
Chief Hoppes says the grant has statistically proven to increase response time, reduce fire damage and property loss, and also increases in firefighter safety and health. Among his many concerns are the 12 members of his staff waiting in limbo.
"Once they realize that there's no hope for them what they're going to do, sometime between now and then they're going to have to make personal life changes," says Chief Hoppes. "I really care about them and how it's going to impact them as well."
Mayor Ireton's proposed budget still faces deliberation by city council, and does not have to be finalized until June 15th. Despite all of the uncertainty, city leaders remain optimistic.
"We'll make contingency plans between now and then, hope for the best, plan for the worst. However it pans out we'll be prepared for it either way."
"If they aren't here we will figure out a way to continue to provide the best fire and EMS services for our citizens," says Mayor Ireton.
To view the Mayor's proposed budget in it's entirety click here.
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