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Gainesville could hire more firefighters if council OKs grant
Gainesville firefighter Blake Truelove participates in a high-angle rescue training drill. The department could receive a nearly $2 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to hire new firefighters. - photo by Tom Reed

Thanks to the federal stimulus bill, there could be a few more folks on the fire trucks in Gainesville.

The city’s fire department could hire 18 new firefighters if the City Council accepts a grant award from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The $1.92 million grant would allow the city fire department to staff a second ladder truck and add firefighters to understaffed engine companies across the city, according to Gainesville Fire Chief Jon Canada.

Staffing guidelines set by the National Fire Protection Association recommend that all engine companies carry four personnel. Currently, Gainesville engines carry three firefighters, Canada said.

"The benefit of that is we’re putting more people on an emergency scene — on a fire or any other emergency scene in the city — it makes it safer for not only our citizens but it also makes it safer for our incumbent firefighters to have those extra personnel there on an incident," Canada said.

The time period of the grant makes it possible for the city to hire the needed staff without having the initial burden on its budget.

The five-year grant would allow the city to gradually take on the expense of hiring the firefighters,
taking on a greater percentage of the cost each year until the grant expires, Canada said. When the grant expired, the city would pick up an approximate $900,000 annual cost to pay the salaries and the benefits of the firefighters.

"Even though the economy has slowed and the growth has slowed, over the last few years that growth has been full-steam ahead, and so it’s been hard for us to keep up with that," Canada said. "So this is a good opportunity for us to kind of catch up to some of that, but not take that full expense dead on."

If the City Council accepts the grant, the new firefighters could be hired by January, Canada said.

The grants are part of a program that provides funding to fire departments and volunteer firefighter organizations to help them increase the number of trained firefighters in their communities, according to a news release from FEMA.

"Every dollar we invest in our first responders is money well-spent," said U.S. Fire Administration’s Deputy Administrator Glenn A. Gaines.

Forsyth County received a hiring grant of a similar size and Lumpkin County’s fire department also received a $722,763 hiring grant.

"We’re really happy about this opportunity," Canada said. "This is something that don’t come along often."