The Cranston Fire Department will soon be up to a full complement thanks to an infusion of $3.45 million in federal funds, secured by Rhode Island’s Congressional delegation. The money will allow the department to hire and train 20 new firefighters, and will cover those salaries, benefits and associated costs for two years.
“We have been significantly down over the past several years because of the significant cuts in revenue we’ve experienced during these difficult times. To be able to replenish, at least for a couple years, it will hopefully drive down our overtime numbers and bring much needed relief,” said Mayor Allan Fung.
The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant program provides this direct federal assistance. Use of the SAFER grant enables Cranston to better serve residents from the city’s six fire stations that respond to more than 13,000 emergency calls each year.
“Our firefighters do a great job and this federal staffing grant will help preserve jobs and improve service to the community,” Senator Jack Reed said in a release. “At a time of tough local budget decisions, this grant will help Cranston maintain appropriate staffing levels needed to protect the city.”
Fung credited Fire Chief William McKenna for his “aggressive pursuit” of grant funding, and of the SAFER funds in particular. For McKenna, the grant comes at a crucial time.
“We’ve been short 17 [firefighters] for a couple of years and we have a couple of retirees that are due and a couple that are in the retirement process right now,” he said. “It’ll bring us up to the proper manning, cut back on our overtime costs and bring us back more to a normal operation.”
The chief is hopeful that the grant can be put into action within 30 days. The department already has a list of more than 100 eligible applicants that have passed the initial test.
“I’m hoping to wrap it up and start bringing people in. I’ll be calling from that list,” he said.
Once called, hopeful firefighters go through a 20-week training that includes cardiac care certification, ropes course, confined space, hazardous materials and driver training.
“We run our own academy within the city; we meet all the standards of the State Academy and the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) standards for Firefighter I and II,” McKenna said.
The new firefighters will be part of a Regional Hazardous Material Response team, a regional heavy rescue team and a regional marine response team covering the Port of Providence and Narragansett Bay.
The SAFER award comes on the heels of another $80,000 in federal funding given to the Cranston Fire Department to make infrastructure upgrades, including fire alarm systems.
“We’re always trying to get the newest technology and equipment,” McKenna said.
Avoiding two years of added personnel costs will help to that end, he added. McKenna emphasized, though, that the priority is bringing the department up to appropriate staffing levels.
“It’ll be good to have those extra bodies up,” he said.