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With $7.2M SAFER grant, Calif. city will hire 24 firefighters

The Fresno department to will be able to deploy an additional emergency squad and add a fourth firefighter to six apparatus


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By Tim Sheehan
The Fresno Bee

FRESNO — About $7.2 million from a federal grant program will help the Fresno Fire Department recruit and hire 24 new firefighters.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency grant, expected to be formally announced as soon as this week, will reimburse 100% of salaries and benefits for each new recruit for three years. The Fresno City Council accepted the grant from the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or SAFER, program on Thursday.

The acceptance is conditional upon the actual grant award, Fresno Fire Department Chief Kerri Donis told The Bee. “We didn’t want to wait another two weeks for a council meeting to approve an award,” Donis said, “as we might lose some of the candidates that we have vetted over the last eight months in preparation for hiring.”

The recruitment and hiring will increase the Fresno Fire Department’s staffing levels from 95 on-duty firefighters each day to 103 firefighters, according to the city’s 2022-23 budget.

That would allow the fire department to “deploy an additional emergency squad unit,” the budget states, “and add a fourth firefighter to six apparatus” (engines or trucks).

The city expects to move quickly once the grant funds are in hand. “We are ready to hire immediately and put them in drill school within a month of the award being made,” Donis told The Bee. The drill school is a 16-week training program for the new hires.

The city’s 2022-23 budget provided for about 367 sworn firefighters, as well as 52 civilian support personnel. The department’s budget for this year is just shy of $101 million.

In a staff report to the City Council, Donis said that the city’s share of spending under the grant will be about $1.1 million in the 2022-23 budget year, almost $740,000 in 2023-24, and about $744,000 in 2024-25.

The grant, Donis added, “will also reimburse for any increases in salary” for the new firefighters as a result of changes to labor agreements negotiated between the city and the firefighters’ labor union.

Once the FEMA grant runs out in 2025, the city estimates that ongoing costs to retain the new hires will be more than $3.3 million each year.

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