Fire Dept. awarded grant for additional first responders

By NIKKI SMITH,

Petal Fire Department was recently named a recipient of a total of $961,869 through a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, in cooperation with the U.S. Fire Administration, awarded the grant to the Petal Fire Department through the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program. 

This additional funding to the Petal Fire Department is intended to support the hiring of firefighters and the recruitment and retention of volunteer firefighters.

“It is limited to hiring personnel to fight fire and make our emergency response safer for us first and, in turn, safer for those in need of help,” said Petal Fire Chief Joe Hendry. “Our grant dollar amount is $961,000 and requires we hire nine firefighters and retain them for a period of three years from 2018 through 2021.”

According to Hendry, this will cost Petal $129,000 per year for the first two years and approximately $370,00 the third year.

After the grant period is over, the annual cost will be around $450,000, which includes all insurance, taxes and benefits funded by the city for the nine new firefighters.

“Safety is the main objective but not the only plus in this program,” Hendry said. “Our State Fire Rating will improve from a 5 to a 4 and will offer an insurance savings to residential policy holders and a larger savings for commercial entities. This is a tangible dollar amount that will vary from company to company.”

“With annexation still in litigation, this a big plus for Petal to offer better fire protection and a significant savings for residents currently outside our fire protection district,” Hendry added. “It speaks volumes of Petals' progressive growth and forward thinking of better service to our citizens and will be recognized on a national level as a feather in Petal's cap. SAFER grants are indeed a big deal all across our country.”

Hendry said the grant was awarded to the Petal Fire Department because of the determination of the department to better serve its community.

“We are not resting on our own laurels nor expecting to be handed everything at the tax payers expense,” he said.

This is the second grant that has been awarded to Petal Fire Department. The first was an $85,000 equipment grant.

The grant will not be awarded until the Petal Mayor and Board of Aldermen approve and accept the responsibility to assume the cost of nine personnel after three years. The request to accept the grant was tabled for further discussion at a regular meeting of the board and will be addressed and voted on at the Sept. 19 meeting.

“I am just concerned about the possibility that we are not able to take advantage of this rare opportunity,” Hendry said.

Petal Fire Department is the latest Mississippi organization to receive federal funding to ensure adequate first responder staffing, with others being awarded to Southaven Fire Department, $1.56 million; Biloxi Fire Department, $1.01 million; Clinton Fire Department, $544,788; and Byhalia Volunteer Fire Department, $66,370.  Other FY2016 awards are possible.

Fire departments in Mississippi have received more than $4.15 million in FY2016 SAFER grants this summer.

“This grant funding is meant to alleviate some of the hardships inherent with firefighting as an occupation.  The retention and recruitment of firefighting personnel helps ensure that sufficient first responders are available to answer the call during emergencies,” Thad Cochran said.

The FY2017 Consolidated Appropriations Act, enacted in May, included $345 million to continue SAFER grants, which are awarded to fire departments and national, state, local, or tribal organizations that represent the interests of volunteer firefighters. 

The grants help fire departments comply with response and operation standards set by the National Fire Protection Association.