The Columbia Fire Department announced Wednesday that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has granted an extension to its 2013 Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grant (SAFER).
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security awarded a SAFER Grant to the Columbia Fire Department on March 3, 2013. The grant began paying for salaries and benefits for five new fire fighters over the course of two years and totaled $658,120.
“Those five positions enable us to keep one of our engine companies, engine two, open more often.” Columbia Fire Department Battalion Chief Brad Fraizer said. “It was shut down the majority of the time. Now we can keep that truck open approximately 38 percent of the time.”
SAFER provides potential for grant fund extension for qualified Military Veterans hired through the program. Three of the five fire fighters hired through the program are Military Veterans and will be eligible to receive the extension through March 2016.
Columbia Fire Department Fire Chief Chuck Witt said in a press release that he is, “pleased to report that a one year extension for their positions totaling $203,370 has just been awarded.”
Fraizer would still like to see additional staff positions added. “We’re not where we would like to be.” Fraizer said. “We would like to see an additional five (positions added) in order to open engine company two full time.”
“Part of the decision to accept the grant money was a commitment to continue funding had run its course.” Fraizer said. “The city of Columbia has committed to doing that. So those positions will continue to be funded after the grants have expired (in March 2015).”
Fraizer said the Columbia City Council regularly has discussions on alternative funding sources for public safety, but nothing definitive has come of it.
“We’re not right where we would like to be, but we are moving in the right direction,” Fraizer said.
SAFER grants were created to provide funding directly to fire departments and volunteer firefighter interest organizations. The goal of the federally funded program is to assist local fire departments with staffing and deployment capabilities in order to respond to emergencies, and assure that communities have adequate protection from fire and fire-related hazards.