FREDERICK COUNTY, Md. (WDVM) — Firefighters in Frederick County have been award around $5.5 million to pay for 38 additional firefighters positions.
On Friday, the county announced the grant awarded from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response program, known as SAFER.
The funding will pay for 38 additional career firefighter positions.
“This will allow us to improve our response time, reduce overtime, and expand some service to support some of our volunteer fire companies,” explained County Executive Jan Gardner.
The grant will fund 75% of salary and benefits for the positions for two years, and 35% in the third year, with the county pitching in the remaining amount.
As far as where those firefighters will be stationed, it’s still too early to tell but Gardener says “the next places that are scheduled to get people is for a second ambulance at juniors in the City of Frederick, for day staff at Walkersville, and I believe we want to add more staff in the Middletown Valley.”
The SAFER grant program assists fire departments around the country to help maintain 24-hour staffing.
The significant dollars– the second largest awarded in the state, and the eighth largest awarded in the country– comes on the tail of a recent 7.9% pay increase for firefighters and EMTs.
In November of 2018, a pay study commissioned by the county found that Frederick firefighters were offered the lowest base pay compared to five surrounding jurisdictions.
“Since January of 2018, we’ve lost close to 20 firefighters to other jurisdictions that were employed by Frederick County, went through recruit school and then ended up leaving to go to another county,” explained president of Career Firefighters Association of Frederick County Local 3666, Stephen Jones. Jones and the local career firefighter’s union have urged for greater pay and benefits. He admits the recent pay raise and news of this grant is a profound step forward.
“Our members are thrilled and I think it’s a huge step in the right direction for not only retaining our firefighters but for the recruitment,” Jones said.
“It allows us to fill these positions sooner than we otherwise would and we have a need so it’s really going to help us improve public safety in our growing community,” Gardener said.
U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Rep. Jamie Raskin, and Rep. David Trone released a statement saying,
“Maryland firefighters risk their lives every day to keep our communities safe. As a federal delegation, we are committed to making sure that they have the resources needed to carry out their mission as safely and effectively as possible. These funds were granted in response to the clear message from firefighters in Western Maryland that additional staffing would improve their ability to respond to emergencies.”
This is the second time Frederick County has been awarded the SAFER grant. In 2016, the county received $6 million for 41 new positions.
Also, the Community Volunteer Fire Company of District No. 12 in Washington County will also more than $96,000 for recruitment and retention.