Frederick County plans to hire 32 firefighters in the coming years using money from an $8.6 million Federal Emergency Management Administration grant, County Executive Jan Gardner said Friday.
The new firefighter positions, Gardner said, will allow the county’s Division of Fire and Rescue Services to fill staffing gaps for four-person engine and ladder truck crews.
The county has an average of three firefighters per engine and ladder crew, Gardner said. The national standard for fire apparatus crews, though, is four.
“This isn’t just about numbers,” Gardner said during a press briefing Friday. “It’s about improving the safety for our firefighters who are on the front line and improving the safety for our community.”
Increasing the engine and ladder truck crews was one of 137 recommendations that were part of an after-action report and improvement plan that an external review panel outlined in its assessment of the Division of Fire and Rescue Services’ response to a two-alarm house fire on Ball Road in Ijamsville on Aug. 11, 2021, that resulted in the death of Battalion Chief Joshua Laird, 46. The panel published its report in August.
Sara Laird, the late firefighter’s widow and a fire safety advocate, said during Friday’s press briefing that “Josh loved serving Frederick County citizens.”
“Every one of these dollars will go, not only to protecting firefighters and first responders, but also to protecting the citizens of Frederick County,” Laird said.
Division of Fire and Rescue Services Director and Chief Tom Coe said Friday that a 2010 report from the National Institute of Standards and Technology showed four-person crews completed fire ground tasks, like search-and-rescue and putting water on a fire, 25% faster than three-person crews.
“In our business, time can mean the difference between life and death,” Coe said.
Once the county has filled the 32 positions, the Division of Fire and Rescue Services will have 572 career firefighters.
The $8.6 million grant was part of $12.1 million to bolster firefighters and first responders in Frederick, Washington and Allegany counties.
The total also includes $1.5 million for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, based in Emmitsburg, for fire prevention and training programs.
The $8.6 million for Frederick County will cover the 32 firefighter positions for three years, after which the cost will shift to the county’s budget, Gardner said.
The grant is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) program.
Gardner said she expects the County Council will approve the SAFER grant funding.
Gardner also said Friday that she will commit about $1.6 million of the county’s $50 million American Rescue Plan Act allocation to address 33 other recommendations from the review panel.
The funding, Gardner said, will be used for:
- additional training
- better markings on equipment and apparatus
- 55 thermal cameras
- antidote kits for smoke inhalation
- reprogramming radio consoles and installing a digital repeater system to improve communications
- creating a more robust health and safety office in the Division of Fire and Rescue Services.
Follow Jack Hogan on Twitter: @jckhogan
While I support hiring the new firefighters, I oppose using one-time grant money to do it. What happens when the grant money runs out? Do the firefighters get fired? Are taxes raised to support them? Do other services vices get cut if taxes are not raised? There is still a legal battle brewing over "forced arbitration" for firefighters salaries.
I agree. Or at least it would be good to see the plan.
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