Sep. 23, 2018 PLYMOUTH EAGLE.
Plymouth Michigan News
“This is a short term solution for a long-term problem.”
Good news for the Plymouth Township Fire Department came last week in the form of a federal grant to provide funding for three additional firefighters for a period of 3 years.
Fire Chief Dan Phillips told members of the township board of trustees that the grant application for $448,825 was approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency Assistance to Firefighters (FEMA) grant program. This competitive grant process helps fire departments across the nation maintain the team they need to prepare for and respond to fire hazards, Phillips explained.
The program, called SAFER, Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, was created to provide funding directly to fire departments and volunteer firefighter interest organizations to help increase or maintain the number of trained firefighters available in communities and comply with staffing, response and operation standards established by the National Fire Protection Association codes and standards.
Phillips applied for the funding in 2017 and was turned down. His re-application filed in April was a winner.
Under the terms of the grant, the government will provide a specific, dedicated amount equal to 75 percent of the pay and benefits for the three, yet-to-be hired, firefighters for the first and second years and 34% in the third and final year of the program. The SAFER grant does not pay legacy costs as new hires since 2012 are not paid benefits, but have defined retirement benefit contribution plans in their contract.
Phillips said while he’s enthused about the grant he knows well the burden facing the fire department within the next five years, citing the need to upgrade a broken-down fleet which included three fire engines and three ambulances.
“This is a short term solution to a long-term problem,” he said.
Although the board members recently approved the purchase of a new fire truck, the vehicle will not be delivered until May 2019. The $660,000 fire-pumper apparatus will be partly paid for with state grant funds, with the township share being approximately $260,000.
Phillips said the department is forced to use a 29-year-old fire truck and a 15-year-old ambulance every day for emergencies, vehicles that need constant maintenance. He said the other fire trucks are 26 and 18 years old.
“We’re using equipment from the ’80s.” Phillips said.
The fire department currently has a total of 21 firefighter-paramedics to serve all shifts between the three fire stations. In July the board approved the hire of three additional personnel that will soon increase the department complement to 24.
Phillips said he is hopeful the recently approved combined ballot proposal for a public safety millage is approved by voters in the Nov. 6 election. The proposal will impose a 1.2 mill tax levy for a period of 18 years to fund the township police and fire departments and address an unfunded $25 million pension and health care liability inherited from the past administration. The millage is expected to raise about $2.1 million in the first year.
Phillips says he’s confident the additional millage will permit the fire department to achieve recommended staffing levels for the first time in years and give him the ability to establish a stable capital improvement plan to maintain funding for both vehicles and equipment.
In 2012, township officials cut fire department staffing in half, closed the Lake Pointe Fire Station and returned the only aerial ladder truck to the Northville-Plymouth City Fire Department.
The SAFER grant regulations allow the township 180 days to hire the new firefighters. If for any reason the township is not able to keep up with their share of the funding for the new hires, all SAFER grant funds would have to be returned to FEMA.
Gallery Photo and Video: Dan Keirnan