Beloit Fire Department could lose three firefighters after federal grant ends
SAFER grant expires in April
BELOIT, Wis. — The Beloit Fire Department responds to roughly 6,000 calls a year, but as the calls continue to increase, the department’s staffing is decreasing.
The department had 61 firefighters but is down to 60 after one retired Wednesday. Chief Brad Liggett said another firefighter plans to retire in September. He said he’ll be able to fill the two positions but faces losing another three firefighters after the department’s Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant ends in April.
“The SAFER grant is designed to assist communities who have lost firefighters through attrition or through layoff to reestablish their previously mandated staffing levels,” Liggett said. “The grant provides cash for benefits and wages and training for firefighters that are hired under the grant.”
The fire department first applied for the grant in 2012 and received roughly $900,000 to hire five firefighters. At the end of the two-year grant, the city was able to pay to keep two firefighters on staff.
The department applied for a second grant in 2014 that provided money to pay salary and benefits for three firefighters starting Jan. 1, 2015 and ending Dec. 31, 2017. However, the department got a late start hiring firefighters, so it has enough funds to last until April.
The grant has allowed the Beloit Fire Department to keep up with the National Fire Protection Association’s best practices standard to maintain a minimum of 15 people available to respond to a structure fire. Before the grant, Beloit fire only had 13 people on duty. Once the grant ends, Beloit will no longer be able to meet the 15-person standard.
“Operationally, we won’t be in compliance with the best practice that we have in the community,” Liggett said. “However, we will continue to respond in the same modalities that we’ve responded in the past.”
The rules for the SAFER grant have changed, meaning Beloit has to match the funds from the grant and be able to provide a year of salary for the firefighters without help.
“The city will have to weigh all of its options on how it will fund protective services moving forward,” Liggett said.
In order to keep the three firefighters, the city has to come up with nearly $500,000, which is how much the SAFER grant awarded the city in 2015. To do that, Liggett said the city would need to look at introducing a referendum, raising fees or reallocating funds to the fire department.
“We’ve done all the right things to keep things sustainable, but we’re reaching a point where the city council is faced with a decision that is a tough one,” Liggett said.
The Beloit City Council will review the proposed budget in October.
Liggett said if he’s not able to keep the three firefighters, the department will have to rely more on mutual aid from surrounding communities.
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