FEMA grant to help CFD fill two slots
Last week was a huge one for Chief Brett Russell and the Clinton Fire Department. On Tuesday night the Clinton City Council authorized $53,000 worth of new communications equipment for the Fire Department and the Police Department. Then on Friday, Russell learned that his department would be receiving over $167,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) which would enable him to hire two fulltime employees and restore the force to its authorized strength of 12 men plus himself.
The $167,593 will cover 75 percent of the wages and benefits of two new hires for two years plus 35 percent for a third year, said Russell. The city will have to pay the other 25 percent for the first two years plus 65 percent the third year, which will total $104,177.
Actually, the city will pay all the fire fighters at their regular pay periods and then be reimbursed quarterly by FEMA for the part the grant covers.
“Our goal at the end of three years is that we’ll be able to absorb the (full) cost and keep ’em,” said Russell.
His department has been working shorthanded for the last 20 months. It was short three full-timers, but he said he was allowed to hire one person in January for a “sling” position to float back and forth, filling in wherever he was needed most.
“We’re currently at 10 fulltime, and we’ll go to 12 as soon as we get these two hired,” he said. “This is just a big win for us.
“We’re real excited to get back to a full staff. We got the email Friday that it had been awarded, so it was a blessing for us. It made my weekend for sure. Our plan is to have our two new guys hired by October 1st. We’ll take applications and do the processing in September.”
Russell applied for the FEMA grant in April, about five months after he became chief. “They were supposed to announce it June 1st,” he said, “but I didn’t get the email till Friday (Aug. 24). There was lots of paperwork involved, but that’s okay to get back to full staff.”
He said the goal for him and his predecessor, Forrest Valentine, had been to not let the community feel any effects of being shorthanded. He thinks they were able to do that, thanks to the work of the other fire fighters.
“It created a lot of work and overtime on our guys, and I’m very proud of them for the work they’ve been putting in,” he said. “The community couldn’t ask for a better group of firemen.”
With 12 full-timers, he said he’ll have four men on every shift, which will make the department compliant with national recommendations for engine company staffing.
FEMA money normally is awarded to smaller units of government that have been hit by some kind of disaster, such as a tornado, flood or fire, as a way of reimbursing them for losses they’ve suffered.
But Russell said FEMA also has a program designed especially to help fire departments.
“The radio program and then this demanded a lot of my time,” he said. “It’s nice to see the improvements. I’ve been working on the radio since I became chief. They’re going to start installing it next week.”