Tulare Fire Department to feel ‘SAFER’ with more staff

Tulare Fire Department applies for FEMA Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, receives pre-approval from city council to hire 12 new personnel

TULARE – As several industries struggle to find employees, the Tulare Fire Department applied to get a grant that will allow them to elevate the number of firefighters on each apparatus each day.

On May 16, Tulare City Council members conditionally approved the hiring of 12 new fire department personnel. The approval will also allow the department to accept the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) staffing for adequate fire and emergency response (SAFER) grant which would cover the salaries of the 12 new hires. Fire chief Michael Ott said they applied for the grant in February and should hear back between June and September of this year.

Though the fire department has not received the grant yet, Ott said they are hopeful and have as good a chance as any other department. The approval granted by council will save them time in the hiring process in the future. The grant is for fiscal year 2022 in the amount of $3,834,867.72.

“This is a contingent approval,” Ott said. “This is a pre-approval, so that if we get notified [we received the grant], we can start the process of hiring immediately and not have to wait to come back to the next council meeting.”

According to the staff report, the city of Tulare Fire Department has applied for a FEMA SAFER grant to increase the staffing level of the fire department by 12 personnel. These 12 personnel will help elevate the number of firefighters on each apparatus from three to an average of four personnel 90% of the time. It will aid the department in becoming more aligned with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1710 Standard for the Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Operations and Special Operations to the public by career fire departments.

In turn, this alignment will lower the risk to firefighters operating on emergency scenes and provide a higher level of safety to the community. Ott said it will also help with basic staffing shortages and allow for less overtime for the current employees.

The anticipated award date for the grant is no sooner than June 2 and no later than Sept. 30. With the FEMA SAFER grant, each awardee has 180 days to recruit and hire individuals from the award date. By gaining pre approval, the fire department won’t have to lose any time in the process and can begin right away. It takes time to work through the selection process, background, individual medical evaluations and finalize the hiring.

“If we go past that 180 days, that three year clock automatically starts, so then it potentially uses that [time],” Ott told council.

If awarded, the grant will allow for 100% federally funded salary and benefits for the 12 additional fire fighters for three years. After the three years are up, it will be up to the city to determine whether or not to continue funding those employees through the city’s general fund, according to the staff report.

Ott said the US Fire Administration and the International Association of Fire Chiefs have currently been advocating for additional programs similar to the FEMA SAFER grant for public safety. Ott said with the help of those organizations as well as the possibility of applying for additional grants, they could help keep some of the firefighters once the three years is up.

Those who are hired will be notified that this is a three year contract. City manager Marc Mondell said though they are not under any obligation to keep the 12 positions, the city will do what they can to keep them.

“We are under no obligation to retain these positions, but I also want council to understand that…management would not have brought this forward to you, if we didn’t have the intent in working to try to find a way to retain these positions should it, in fact, be proven that this is the right staffing level for the organizations in the community,” Mondell said.

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