Trending Topics

How to Save Staffing if SAFER Funding is Denied

Editor’s note: While this column is a great backup plan in case your organization is unable to get SAFER funding, you shouldn’t give up on securing SAFER grants. FireRescue1 columnist Jerry Brant how to hire firefighters with 2009 SAFER grants and how to secure SAFER funding for recruitment and retention. If you still have questions or need additional help, e-mail Bryan Jack with a description of your situation.

By Bryan Jack

Question: “What are the alternatives if we are unsuccessful in our SAFER funding request?”

This year, Congress has appropriated $210 million for the SAFER program. It is anticipated that there will be between 4,000 to 5,000 agencies vying for these funds and approximately 200 grants will be awarded. With the addition of the ability to rehire laid off employees added to the program this year and next, the number of agencies trying to increase staffing levels by hiring new firefighters may be significantly impacted.

Now, I don’t want to discourage any of you from applying for SAFER funding but I do think that it might be wise to identify a “Plan B” or “what if we don’t get funded” plan to increase or maintain your staffing levels. As a fire service manager I am continually trying to identify ways to increase daily staffing levels in order to increase the safety and well-being of the firefighters that I work with and the public that we serve. Some of the ideas that I will discuss below could be implemented internally at the single agency level, while others would require a cooperative effort involving multiple agencies.

Residency Programs
From an internal standpoint, volunteer, combination and career agencies alike could consider implementing resident or live-in programs. These programs have proven to be successful and cost effective for many agencies throughout the country. There are many variations of the resident program concept. Some programs provide room and board, college tuition assistance or technical training, ski passes and other incentives in exchange for residents pulling shifts. Essentially these programs are volunteering in exchange for incentives.

Here is an example of how this option could be cost effective: The ABC Fire Department is a career department that is looking to increase its daily staffing level by one firefighter (the agency is set up in three shifts so they need a total of three new firefighters to accomplish this). The cost of hiring an entry level firefighter is $35,000 per year (not including benefits) so the agency would need to come up with $105,000 to hire three firefighters outright. Based on the current state of the economy and declining tax revenues there is no way that ABC FD can afford to do this. The alternative is to find space to house three to four resident firefighters in the ABC FD stations, give them a food stipend and provide them with tuition reimbursement for courses taken at the local community college (ABC FD’s current tuition costs for four residents is approximately $20,000 per year and the food stipend runs about $3000 per year). ABC FD also established resident requirements and an application process that required applicants to posses a state firefighter-1, EMT and CPAT certification prior to acceptance into the program. This program has been very successful for ABC FD as they have increased their daily staffing level by one person for a total cost of $23,000 as opposed to $105,000.

Part-Time Employees
This is another obvious option for agencies that cannot currently afford to hire full-time employees or for agencies that have been forced to cut overtime funding in order to maintain a complete complement of full-time staff. The majority of cost savings under this concept is derived from savings by paying fewer benefits or from the savings realized by paying part-time employees as opposed to paying overtime (I’m only talking about overtime that is outside of the realm of FLSA – call backs, vacation coverage, extra duty shifts, etc.).

How about increasing cooperation with your neighbors?
Here at ABC FD we have come up with two concepts that have the potential to increase daily staffing, provide better service, align adjacent agency practices, and benefit our firefighters and citizens. The first concept is to partner with the agency to our west (Lake FD) in order to improve both agencies’ daily staffing levels. Here is how it works: Lake FD pays a single part-time firefighter to staff its engine during the day (0800 to 1700) after 1700 the Lake FD volunteers take over. ABC FD staffs its engine with three firefighters daily (neither agency can afford four full-time employees for engine staffing). The two department’s stations are 2.5 miles apart. If we were to combine the daily staffing from both agencies onto a single engine we could achieve a four-person staffing standard. The benefit to Lake FD is that they get a four-person engine for their current cost — the disadvantage is that the engine responds from 2.5 miles away. ABC pays the Lake FD firefighter for the remaining 15 hours of the 24-hour shift, thus gaining a 24-hour employee while only paying for 15 hours. Each agency now has access to a 24-hour, four person engine.

Concept number two is to partner with the agency to our south (Eagle FD). This concept has to do with how to save overtime dollars while also finding a way for our firefighters to recoup income that was lost by cutting overtime. Both Eagle FD and ABC FD have been forced to cut overtime funding (not scheduled overtime, but coverage overtime) for next year, but they did manage to hang on to some part-time funding. The agencies are closely aligned, have similar certification and training requirements, and the crews work closely with one and other through mutual and automatic-aid agreements. I would propose that it would be beneficial and cost effective for the full-time employees of one agency to become part-time employees of the other agency and vice-versa. The benefits of this concept are increased cooperation and happy firefighters (not happy that they lost overtime potential, but happy that we identified and established a way for them to potentially make up some of their loss, while doing what they do best).

The above are only a few of the alternative plans that I currently have in the works. I’m sure I’ll have a few more before SAFER closes in December.
Ultimately, the best plan may be to submit a thoroughly researched, well written and polished SAFER application; an application that is based on a staffing and needs assessment/analysis, and corresponds to the program guidance; an application that incorporates NFPA and OSHA standards and guidelines and demonstrates the dire financial situation of your agency, the effect on daily operations, the increased safety for your citizens and firefighters, the benefit to your adjacent emergency service agencies, your increased potential to address all risks and hazards and the increased protection of the critical infrastructure within your service area.

I look forward to your comments and questions.

Bryan Jack is a grant consultant with and its sister site, A 15-year veteran of the fire service, Bryan is currently serving as Battalion Chief at Tri-Lakes Monument Fire Protection District in Monument, Colorado. A certified Fire Officer and Paramedic, Bryan has been successfully writing, reviewing and consulting on grants for more than five years. For any questions related to grants, you can contact Bryan at He will be featuring some of the questions – and his answers – in upcoming columns.