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Fire chief wants full-time personnel

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By Jeff M. Hardison

Fire Chief John Ward found the Chiefland City Commission unanimously approving some of his requests for grant applications, while the commission held back on one.

A Florida Division of Forestry grant for a 50-50 match was approved March 24. Ward said these funds are for less expensive items for the department.

A separate grant for up to $1 million, where the Federal Emergency Management Agency pays 90 percent and the city pays 10 percent was also unanimously approved. Ward said the city needs an aerial fire engine to cover the two-story future Tri-County Hospital, as well as the existing two-story apartments and motels. Future warehouses need aerial fire protection as well, he said.

This truck is estimated to cost between $375,000 and $700,000, Ward said.

The 90-10 federal match grant is also good for equipment. This grant is known as the FEMA Assistance to Firefighters Grant. Ward said the Chiefland Fire Rescue Department could use some new bunker gear. The cost for this is between $24,000 and $30,000, he estimated.

Another grant application sought by Ward was delayed for approval.

He wants to move from having only himself, Firefighter-EMT David Florance and two part-time firefighters as paid employees. With this other grant, Ward said he could hire five more firefighters to provide 24-hour, seven-day-a-week coverage by paid firefighters.

As it stands, the fire station is only manned from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. When fire or rescue calls happen at other times, volunteers must be called out.

Volunteers are being called so often with the growth of the city, Ward said, that they are finding it difficult to get up in the morning and go to their regular jobs.

As the city grows, people will expect a level of service that a volunteer department will be unable to meet, he said.

Nevertheless, the City Commission wanted to wait before approving his request to seek a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant. The SAFER grant would pay for added fire personnel salaries for four years.

The first two years it would cover the salaries 100 percent. Then it would reduce to 75 percent coverage the third year, and 50 percent in year four. The fifth year and thereafter, the city would have to cover the whole cost of the firefighters? salaries.

Mayor Teal Pomeroy questioned if the Levy County Board of County Commissioners would help with the SAFER funding, because many calls are outside the city limits.

He felt the city would be carrying an unfair burden for the county residents who are within the fire district, if the city accepted the SAFER grant. The door was not closed entirely for Ward on this grant. The commissioners wanted more time to consider it.