The Akron Fire Department has been feeling the love from the federal government lately.
The department has received more than $14 million in federal funds in the past two years. The money has been used (or will go) toward retaining firefighters, hiring 38 new firefighters, buying a new fire truck and purchasing other fire equipment.
“We have been very fortunate,” Fire Chief Rob Ross said.
During the Akron City Council’s Public Safety Committee meeting Monday, Ross detailed the two latest federal grants the department received. These grants will be used to buy a new fire truck and equipment, including heart monitors and extrication tools.
The council will vote on accepting the grants at its meeting Monday.
The fire department’s success obtaining federal grants began in 2010, when it received a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Response (SAFER) grant that was used to bring back firefighters who had been laid off during the economic downturn. Akron received a $6.5 million extension to this SAFER grant last year, as well as a $6.4 million grant to hire another 38 firefighters. Since 2010, this brings the city’s total SAFER funds to more than $19 million, Ross said.
“It’s probably unprecedented across the country,” the chief said. “We justified our needs.”
SAFER funds do not require a local match, but do mandate that the city maintain a certain staffing level.
Because of this, the new class the department plans to start in early July will have more than the 38 firefighters who will be funded with the federal grant. The size of the class is currently at 42 and could grow if there are more retirements, Ross said.
Akron probably would not be making new hires this year without the federal funds because of continued budget constraints, including cuts to the city’s local government funds from the state that are primarily allocated to fire and police, Ross said.
The latest equipment grants were from the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program. One is for $480,0000, with a $120,000 match from the city, that will be used for a “Quint” fire truck, which is a multi-purpose vehicle that serves as a pumper and ladder truck.
The second, for $519,996, with a $129,999 match from Akron, will go toward buying 12 heart monitors, hydraulic extrication equipment and highway safety equipment, including warning signs that can be used at an accident scene to alert motorists.
The department received a $247,953 Assistance to Firefighters Grant last year that went toward buying new turnout gear for firefighters.
Akron has reached its $1 million cap for this year through the Assistance to Firefighters Grant program. The department applied for $116,417 to provide smoke alarms to residents and, if that funding is approved, would have to decline it, Ross said.
Councilman Jeff Fusco asked Ross if the department has looked into coordinating with other departments for the purchase of equipment.
Ross said Akron, Summit County and other fire departments in the county are waiting to hear if they will receive a $1.75 million joint grant that would be used to begin a mammoth upgrade to the 800-megahertz radio system used in the county. The city and county together would kick in $437,500 for the project.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter: @swarsmith. Read the Beacon Journal’s political blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/ohio-politics.