The Middletown Division of Fire, which is responding to more calls for service with fewer firefighters, hopes to receive a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant to fund the hiring of eight firefighters and one lieutenant.
Middletown City Council unanimously approved a resolution at its Tuesday night meeting to allow City Manager Paul Lolli, the city’s former fire chief, to apply for a grant from the Department of Homeland Security. The resolution passed 4-0 with council member Rodney Muterspaw excused from the meeting.
Fire Chief Tom Snively said 100% of the $3.1 million grant would be funded by the DHS for a three-year period. When the grant expires, the city can continue employing the additional nine personnel at an annual cost of $900,000 to $1.1 million or lay them off, he said.
Unlike previous SAFER grants, this one does not have a retention requirement at the end of the three years.
Deadline for applying is March 17.
From 2002 to 2022, the number of calls for service has increased by 7,804 to 13,106, or 68%, he said. Meanwhile, during the same 20-year period, staffing has dropped from 22 to 19 per shift.
In the 2018 staffing and deployment analysis, the top recommendation was a minimum staffing of 21 for an “effective fire force,” according to Snively.
He said 21 would allow the department to fully staff Station 82 with a fire engine and ambulance. That station, projected on 2.7 acres at Ohio 122 and Atrium Boulevard, is expected to be built near the city’s two hospitals, nursing homes, Interstate 75 and potential planned new development, Snively said.
Another recommendation from the same analysis called for an increase in the fire prevention division by one. In 2014, the fire prevention division lost two fire marshals due to budget reductions, thus reducing the department’s focus on fire prevention and acting proactively in regards to loss prevention, according to Snively.
He said fire prevention and education is accepted as the “best bang for the buck” when it comes to saving lives and property.
Preventing fires through educational efforts is “critical to what we do,” he said. “Right now we are reactive.”
Hiring more firefighters will improve the division’s response times, he said.
“The importance of seconds,” he said. “They matter in our business.”
The last time the Middletown Division of Fire applied for the SAFER grant, the department wasn’t selected. Snively said they have reviewed Middletown’s application process and compared it to other departments that received grants in hopes of improving the narrative.
“We have a good roadmap laid out,” he told council. “I like our chances.”
Vice Mayor Monica Nenni looked across the room at Lolli, who was fire chief the last time Middletown wasn’t awarded a grant.
She told Snively: “Better luck than the last guy.”
“I hope,” Lolli said with a smile.