Youngstown approves SAFER grant to hire four new firefighters - WFMJ.com News weather sports for Youngstown-Warren Ohio

Youngstown approves SAFER grant to hire four new firefighters

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -

During a special Youngstown City Council meeting, a FEMA SAFER Staffing Grant was unanimously approved.

The Youngstown Firefighters Local 312 gave a round of applause as the final council member cast their vote in favor of the grant.

Federal authorities have awarded the Youngstown Fire Department $398,793 to hire four firefighters and maintain 10 trucks on the road, with a city obligation to match $160,000 over a three year period.

FEMA reduced the city's match obligation for the grant due to financial difficulties.

For year one the SAFER grant will pay $40,000 per new firefighter for a total of $160,000.  For year two the SAFER grant will also pay $40,000 per firefighter for a total of $160,000, and during year three the SAFER grant will pay $18,000 per firefighter for a total of $72,000.

The SAFER grant requires the city to increase its firefighting staff from 123 to 127, and maintain 10 front line trucks on the road during the three year period of the grant.

Chief John O'Neill is relieved. "This is a big weight off our shoulders.  Now that they accepted the grant we can move forward with getting four people hired through the grant and ensure that all 10 trucks are left open."

But Chief O'Neill admits he was concerned about which way council would vote, "The council and mayor had concerns two-fold.  What was our financial obligation?  Were we going to get some relief on the city's match and the other major concern they had and for good reason when you go into a grant you are obligated to live by the terms of the grant?  What would happen if the city was in dire financial need in the future and was obligated and already received this money, what would happen?"

Fortunately, the Chief was able to find out before the vote that FEMA has a "hardship" provision that the City could apply for if they would get into financial trouble.

City Councilman T.J. Rodgers, who is also Chairman of the Finance Committee, also had his own concerns. "It wasn't really the amounts that they were contributing for the firefighters that they were hiring, it really was the requirement that we have to maintain 127 firefighters throughout the duration of the grant.  That was the concern that I had, and I believe some of my other council mates shared the concern as well."

But FEMA also had a staffing waiver that the department could apply for in the event there were retirements.

Members of the firefighters union are just thankful the city is coming together to support their department so that they can focus on keeping the citizens safe.

Lieutenant Tony Ciccone, the President of Firefighters Local 312 tells 21 News, "It was a no brainer in our opinion and we're excited and kind of happy that everybody kind of seen that you know.  We're most excited for the citizens they get the full coverage that they are entitled to from the fire department and from the city.  It was kind of nice to see everybody stand behind the same cause."

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